Tuesday 10 August 2010

Atomkraft ? - Not Likely

Our favourite LibDem Chris 'Crapper' Huhne is being quoted widely as 'hoping' that the first new UK nuke 'should be' up and running in 8 years. He's fingering EDF as the likely developer, which is fair enough, given the extravagant claims they made when they bought BE, of planning to build 4.

It's not very likely though, is it Chris ? Talk is cheap, but nukes are not.

First, as the Inde sets out, there are truly formidable administrative hurdles, even with the Coalition's avowed willingness to streamline the planning process.

Secondly there is the entertaining theological debate over what constitutes a 'public subsidy'. The Telegraph (whose ear seems to be bent by the wind lobby increasingly these days) has noted - what C@W spotted from the outset - that the famous floor price for carbon is simply a windfall for anyone with existing non-coal / non-gas plants, notably EDF. Their co-conspirators in the RWE-E.ON combine even have the balls to demand more than just a high carbon price - they want mandatory buying of nuke output by the electricity suppliers. Somewhere along this line, the Treasury is surely going say, enough is enough.

Which brings us to just how ready EDF might be to press the start button. Answer: they ain't. Read this report** on their woes by Roussely, their Hon.President (in the original if you can, because the published translation is truly rubbish - Google can do as well as that). Key takeaways are that EDF is all at sea with its strategy; is lobbying to extend the lives of its French nukes to 60 years (sic); isn't sure what model of plant they should be promoting for export; and has no intention of starting on another of their new generation of big, expensive nukes (EPRs) until they have fully hoisted on board the lessons of the first two they are building right now in Finland and France (both fiascos on a very large scale, and neither likely to be finished any time soon).

And why would they ? Certainly not to gratify Crapper Huhne. But then, he doesn't care anyway - windfarms and muckheaps are what he's really interested in.


hat-tip to our old comment-friend Mr RW


Swiss Toni said...

To be fair, the EDF-Areva link up suggests things can be fixed and countries that are desperate for energy, eg the UK and parts of the developing world, can fasttrack the construction of old-style reactors, not the fiasco-prone Flammanville EPR model.

So I don't see the UK's problems as being dependent on the mess that is EDF. Instead it's planning and the still deafening silence from the UK government on the matter.

Nick Drew said...

but surely Mr T, before anyone performs a volte-face quite as extreme as reverting to old nuke designs (PWR?), they'll resort to gas-fired plant to plug the gap ?

a big concern expressed by Roussely is that 'countries that are desperate for energy' won't be looking to EDF and its expensive, gold-plated monsters at all ! they'll go for cheaper (and, he hints strongly, less safe - a path which he is adamant the French will not take) Korean or Chinese models

which is probably good enough for 'parts of the developing world' but not, I'd be guessing, for Mr Huhne,

Budgie said...

So Huhne thinks it will take 8 years to build the first new nuclear generating plant here? In his dreams. Most of the engineering expertise has gone - retired, never trained, companies going bust or taken over.

Mind you with German turbines and generators, French nukes, French concrete, east european labour, it might happen in 10.

Of course what we should have been doing is a) not selling Westinghouse (another Brown blunder) and b) building a new one every 5 years or so for the last 20 years. That would have kept the supply chain and the personnel up to speed.

But then, even when it started to become obvious we needed new nukes, we were controlled by Labour politicians who were as mindlessly anti nuclear as the stupid Huhne.

ivan said...

Maybe it is time to look at every community having its own generator - something like this -

Hyperion Power
Hyperion's 25 MWe reactor is factory built and factory fueled and
re-fueled. It can be shipped by truck, train, or ship. It provides
enough power for 20,000 modern homes. A single fueling is good for 5+
years. They are designed for burial underground, for additional safety.
All for a mere $25 million -- or about $1,250 per household in a 20,000
home community. For over 5 years of baseload power and heat, a $1,250
investment is minimal.

Old BE said...

I was under the impression that the reason the French did well with their nuclear programme was that they built identical stations each time instead of designing a new one from scratch for every installation.

Can't we just build a few more Sizewell Bs around the country? They are adequate, aren't they? And the white tiled domes are quite pretty.

Steven_L said...

Just put overweight MP's on treadmills.

rwendland said...

Budgie, sounds like you would like to go back to the CEGB and a 20 year plan, and get rid of this privatised generating industry!

The reason the western privatised industry has never built a running nuc is that they have been uneconomic when financed with private money worried about risk, rather than with govt or protected regulated-industry money at 3% to 5% discount rates. The industry currently hopes that increased oil/gas prices and high CO2 pricing will make the bet worthwhile, but it just ain't happening.

rwendland said...

Swiss Toni, Blue Eyes,

If we were to build old-style (cheaper?) PWRs, we'd be negating out large expenditure on UK "terrorism security". A major feature of the new EPR/AP1000 designs is that they can withstand a plane crashing into them, without *too* catastropic consequences. (NB some debate how large a plane it could take, some argue the design could not take a bullseye from a 747 engine.)

If we really want old style PWRs, the Chinese have the CPR-1000, which is an enhanced French 900 MWe design, that they are building about 15 of so build cost will be fairly predictable.

Areva still have the foreign build rights on this CPR-1000, so they could cut into the action and build major components in France. But Roussely did not mention this in his report, so I guess the current French view is this is nasty competition to be suppressed.

ND: BTW the Chinese have also started building two EPRs at Taishan, Guangdong Province - EDF have a 30% joint venture on these. So there are 4, not 2, EPRs we can learn lessons from. Be interesting to see if the Chinese make a better job of building EPRs than the French! The IAEA PRIS database says construction started 2009/04/19 and 2009/10/28 on these two EPRs.

rwendland said...

... Dah, copy+paste botch: The two Chinese EPRs have IAEA PRIS database has construction started dates of 2009/10/28 and 2010/04/15.

Nick Drew said...

Chinese - yes, Roussely mentions that:

...recommandations qu’il convient impérativement d’effectuer un retour d’expérience des chantiers d’Olkiluoto, de Flamanville 3, et de Taishan (Chine), avant de commencer la construction proprement dite de Penly 3. Le calendrier des opérations au Royaume-Uni sera mis à profit dans le même souci*

I like the idea of them also learning from UK operations before Penly 3 ! bit of horse-and-cart here, n'est-ce pas?

- - -
* the worst Dalrymple-translated bit in the whole report, and that's saying something

Budgie said...

rwendland said: "Budgie, sounds like you would like to go back to the CEGB and a 20 year plan, and get rid of this privatised generating industry!"

Hmmm, the knee jerk sneer, but lacking in logic.

The government already has a 20 year plan, it's called CO2 reduction. Like it or hate it, it is there and it controls what we end up with.

There are also issues of a strategic nature and issues of responsibility at stake. Who does the customer, or in a democracy the government, hold to account when we run out of power?

Electro-Kevin said...

Perhaps we could draw power off of Huhne's hot air.

He's not the only one blowing it like a steamroller. There's Cameron giving us the blarney about what he's going to do about benefits. I've got him down as a liar already.

rwendland said...

> The government already has a 20 year plan, it's called CO2 reduction.

Trouble is, it is not a very definite plan.

The nuc companies want this made solid, with a guaranteed floor price so their financial projections show a profit, before they commit funds. Without CO2 pricing, or more obvious subsidy, we will not have new nucs under private financing.

Issues of a long-term strategic nature don't really easily fall out of a private market - just look at the banks lately - the bias is toward relatively short-term return.

The Oxford Prof in ND's Independent article had it nailed:

"The design of our electricity market is almost uniquely ill-qualified for delivery of long-term kind of investment," said Dieter Helm, a professor of energy policy at Oxford University. ... "One person's incentives are another person's subsidy," an industry source said. "If nuclear gets anything it is seen as a subsidy, but if the review doesn't make the economics make sense then companies won't build." ... "We will be extremely lucky to get it sorted out by the end of 2011."

Nick Drew said...

Ivan - thanks, very interesting ! all ideas will be gratefully received at Huhne Towers, no doubt ... that one fits nicely with the Coalition's (theoretical) localism, yes ?

ivan said...

Not only localism but it should cut down on the need to update and expand the grid infrastructure as places expand.

For some reason the link to the Hyperon site didn't get past my cut and paste.
so here it is again for those interested.

Budgie said...

rwendland - the point (or one of them) is we don't have a free market in electricity provision.

It is not going "back to the CEGB and a 20 year plan" - we already have a government imposed '20 year' plan but called by different a name (ie CO2 reduction). That is, the government does interfere and rig the market for particular outcomes. Just as the previous Labour government did by being so anti-nuclear.

Since we don't have a "private market" (what is one of those anyway? 'market' is just the collective noun for the aggregate of individuals' buying decisions and is not private) in electricity provision, the sensible course is not to stop-start the process of building new nuclear. Then we wouldn't have to go cap in hand to the French to build ours.

And if Roger Pielke is to be believed we need 40 of the things by 2015.

rwendland said...

I'd say the sensible course is not to build new nuclear if they will lose money.

If you are an old lag like me, you'll remember that Sizewell B's sister plant at Hinckley Point C obtained planning permission in 1990 following a public enquiry, which the CEGB intended to build as part of a rolling PWR programme as you suggest was sensible. But it was dropped as uneconomic in the early 1990s when the electric power industry was privatised and low discount rate government finance was no longer available.

This POST report summarises it:

the Sizewell B project appeared to be economically viable at a 5% public sector discount rate and
was approved on that basis in 1987. By 1989, the official
rate had risen to 8% and the next PWR, Hinkley Point C,
was close to being viable, though with lower expected
construction costs than Sizewell B. Following privatization,
the nuclear industry was advised that the lowest possible
commercial discount rate for a nuclear project would be
11%. At this rate, the proposed Sizewell C power station
would have made a large loss, though the construction costs were even lower than those expected at Hinkley Point C.

They won't get built unless the proponents can make the finance spreadsheets show a profit.

NB New Labour were strongly pro-nuclear since 2004, when the economics began to look more promising. eg the Shefffield Forgemasters support/subsidy, now cancelled.

Nick Drew said...

New Labour were strongly pro-nuclear since 2004

splitting hairs, RW but if I recall correctly, NuLab went into the 2005 GE with a nuke-neutral manifesto, Blair being still convinced it was a vote-loser

Budgie said...

To describe New Labour as "strongly pro-nuclear since 2004" is ridiculous. New Labour were vehemently anti nuclear for most of their 13 years - many of their MPs espousing the "Nuclear - no thanks" slogan beloved by nulab councils. It was only in the last couple of years that nulab ministers grudgingly came round, and then only because they had fallen for the CO2 AGW theory.

As for the economics, the point is there is not a free market because the current and previous governments rigged the market for political ends. That being so, it would have been more sensible, as I originally said, if the political interference was as a result of a longer term understanding of build capacity and generation strategy.

Stop-start bust the British car industry in the 1950s and 60s; it bust the British nuclear industry in the 1990s and 2000s. The politicians interfere and make the rules: they must bear the responsibility.

rwendland said...

Yes, looks like I misremembered. In 2004 advisors and lobbyists were working away at Blair and the New Labour inner circle to reverse the 2003 Energy White Paper attitude on nuclear, but Blair did not announce anything until after the election.

Nowever stuff was leaking into the press, such as the pre-election Independent story "Nuclear power? Yes Please, Says Blair" (23 April 2005) and similar in the Sunday Times:

Downing Street is drawing up secret plans to create a new generation of nuclear power stations as the centrepiece of the Government's drive to combat climate change. Tony Blair wants to avoid discussing the issue until after the election and the No 10 review of Britain's energy needs is not mentioned in the manifesto. But a team in the Strategy Unit, led by Lord Birt, the former BBC director general and one of the Prime Minister's closest advisers, is studying whether nuclear power should play a central role in combating global warming.

... Geoffrey Norris, Mr Blair's special adviser on industry matters, is among those said to be promoting the case. "No 10 advisers and people in the Strategy Unit are pushing it very strongly," said one senior source. "John Birt and Geoffrey Norris, who has the ear of Tony Blair, are looking at this."

... Backers of the nuclear option are confident of victory but admit the hurdles are formidable. A likely way to finance the move would be a form of public-private partnership but the private sector might demand long-term energy contracts with guaranteed fixed prices, before investing in nuclear.

The Depts were against subsidising nuclear, but the lobbyists got at Blair instead.