It’s being called a ‘triple whammy’ for the UK nuclear industry. And with what’s on the horizon - it’s beginning to look more like a quadruple or quintuple whammy.
First, local representatives in Cumbria in the north of the country rejected plans to build a deep geological storage facility for nuclear waste on the doorstep of the beautiful Lake District national park. There are no other candidate sites, putting plans for the long-term storage of highly dangerous nuclear waste in the UK into disarray.
Then it was announced that the cost of decommissioning and clean up at the Sellafield nuclear facility – also in Cumbria – is currently running at 67.5 billion pounds. That’s not the final figure. The bill is growing fast and nobody has any idea what the size of the final bill will be. As with anything nuclear, don’t believe any estimates from the industry itself.
This was swiftly followed by the news that Centrica, the last major UK company involved in plans to build new nuclear reactors in the country, was pulling out because "the anticipated project costs in new nuclear have increased and the construction timetable has extended by a number of years."
But that’s not the end of the trouble. More dark clouds are gathering. Further whammies lie ahead.
Whammy #4: Largely unnoticed, a few weeks ago the chief executive of French nuclear giant EdF, Vincent de Rivaz, told a committee of UK politicians that if EdF builds new nuclear reactors in the UK, it wants to be paid whether the electricity is used or not. "If a power station is available to generate electricity, its operator should not suffer financially because a policy or system decision is made that its electricity is not needed," he said.
"It is right not only for investors," said Mr de Rivaz, "but for consumers as well."
But why charging consumers for a product they don’t need is 'right' is extremely hard to understand. Here at Greenpeace we’ve been trying to think of another industry that could get away with such barefaced cheek. How would you feel if a baker knocked at your door demanding money even though you didn’t want the bread he’s made?
Whammy #5: On top of that, EdF wants a guaranteed price for the electricity its new reactors would produce. Indeed, the company says it will pull out all together unless it is guaranteed profits.
It is currently in secret talks with the UK government trying to agree to a figure. Estimates say this will be close to 95-99 pounds per MWh. Basically they want to force UK consumers to pay double the current price for electricity for the next 25 years. That’s more than wind power costs right now.
Does that sound like value for money for UK taxpayers? Is it ‘right’ for consumers, Mr de Rivaz?
Where does this leave us? In a speech this week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said "countries that prioritise green energy will secure the biggest share of jobs and growth in a global low-carbon sector set to be worth US$4 trillion by 2015" and that the UK should be "a global showcase for green innovation and energy efficiency."
With its waste of time, taxpayer and consumer money and vital resources, its toxic legacy, its incompetence, blackmail and broken promises and its way of frightening investors, nuclear power just doesn’t fit anywhere in Mr Cameron’s vision.
Greenpeace is calling for the UK to abandon its nuclear plans and turn the prime minister’s words into reality.
(Photograph of the UK's Sellafield nuclear plant © Greenpeace / Nick Cobbing)