Friday 29 July 2022

UK Nukes, part 3: FFS, why?

OK, so HMG is hell-bent on Sizewell C, to the extent that they are kissing the Frenchman's arse to get it done.  Since last week's announcement there has only been bad news from France, on Flamanville and the operations of the existing French fleet.  This follows upon well over a decade of nothing but bad news on the EPRs; so why SZC will be any better, no man can tell.  If ministers had half a wit, but were still that determined to go ahead, they'd be striking a much harder bargain than appears to be the case - and experience tells us the actual bargain will be even worse than anything that's ever made public prior to the inevitable public inquiry that will follow when everything goes pear-shaped.   (For a modest fee, I offer to act as commercial consultant in the matter.) 

Even if were to be concluded on intelligent commercial terms, literally nobody would dare hazard a guess as to when this chunky bit of capacity would come on line.  That's pretty dreadful for long-term planning in a perilously-balanced sector of crucial national importance; and gives the lie to the "only nukes deliver predictable baseload electricity at scale" line, which is about all EDF has to offer.

The question therefore arises: why in the name of Hell is HMG so bent on SZC?

Here are three answers:

  1. Keynesian job creation.   That's the explanation I have always favoured.  You can see the attraction of HPC, for example: a project creating thousands of fairly decent civil engineering jobs (albeit the workforce holed up in portakabin hotels in the middle of Zummerset is not a particularly happy body of men) that drags on for year after year, being paid for by the French & Chinese, at their ultimate risk.  RAB-financed SZC, though, looks to be under-written by HMG and paid for concurrently on electricity bills - a rather different equation.
  2. Support for the UK nuclear deterrent.  They bang on about this at great length at SPRU (Sussex University), essentially suggesting that the civil nuke programme is tacitly subsidising the military.  Maybe: it's not something I've ever studied: and I'm instinctively suspicious of deep-state conspiracy theories.  But the logic is obvious enough: you can take a look for yourself.  
  3. A new one:  getting HMG off the legal hook.  So I now add this 3rd explanation: HMG can use SZC as something rather concrete** they can adduce in front of the judge as evidence they are actually doing something - however crass.  I've written here before about the stupidity of legislating for targets like Net Zero 2050 by making them "legally binding".  It simply invites court actions by the Green Blob, and indeed the courts gratify it by entertaining them, and sometimes finding in their favour.  Just last week, the High Court agreed that HMG's NZ2050 strategy was too woolly and has given it a few months to sort it out (plus costs for the Blob).  This is of course bloody ridiculous, but what does anyone expect?
What do readers think?  What other explanations might there be?  Is anyone convinced by SPRU's military hypothesis?  

Over to you.


** and I do mean concrete - unbelievable amounts of the stuff, even more than at HPC: 40% of the new plot they'll be building on at the northern end of the site is bog, with very poor and deep underlying bedrock.   EDF screwed up the geology at Hinkley, so the scope for real and very costly nonsense at SZC is huge. 


Anonymous said...

"If ministers had half a wit,"

You could have saved yourself a forest of words.

They don't.

And to top it all, it's looking like they are going to elect a half with as leader.

Anonymous said...

The old powergen hands would always say you insulate before you generate so the push for more generating capacity is a sign of deeper problems within government - which have been discussed ad nauseum.

If we had decent building standards we could reduce the need for this additional capacity. But we don't.

And even if we did have these standards, could we build homes fast enough to change the energy profile? We lack the (unrestricted) land, the people, and the skills.

How about retro-fitting homes then? We'll there used to be within every Local Authority energy efficiency advisors who organised themselves into an effective network for sharing best practice. Great source of expertise and knowledge. And guess what happened to "experts" within local government?

The current approach to all things that require political (small p) input is more akin to the fall of an empire. The state's capacity to deliver something as basic as energy is reduced. And don't bother talking about water supply as that's going to hell in a handcart too.

Once asked a Kiwi what he liked about Britain. He replied that no matter how bad things got, we'd reply with "It's not so bad" or "mustn't grumble".

Perhaps it's time for us to lose the stiff upper lips.

Elby the Beserk said...

Over to me?

Incompetence is the norm in our energy "policy". Deeply ingrained since Ed Miliband's 2008 "Climate Change (Destruction of the Economy) Act" since when we have resolutely pissed bad money away after bad money.

And rather than taking stock, what did they come up with but the rabbit hole insanity of NetZero.

FUBAR doesn't even begin to describe what Nick details above. At least us taxpayers are all loaded, and will hardly notice the hit on our pockets. Which will be in the fifth outer layer of woolly jerseys.

Seems to me that a sign of a good government would be that it had little to do, as most was working well. Nope. The busier a government is now, the more effective it feels itself to be, crisis to crisis, my look at us. Each time, each crisis, making matters worse by being now PATHOLOGICALLY incapable of interfering in everything to do with the economy.

God help us.

dearieme said...

" the workforce holed up in portakabin hotels in the middle of Zummerset"

Dear Christ, that's one hell of a commute being forced on them.

dustybloke said...

Look for the biggest bung in British history. This can be the only explanation …

Nick Drew said...


well, it was famously G.Brown's brother that was in the pay of EDF

when I saw Boris rush through the SZC 'approval' in the dying days of his regime, it did make me wonder about suggesting a #4

but no ... surely not ..?

E-K said...

Could ask the same questions about the lack of reservoirs. The same question about the lack of housing provision and infrastructure/services in the face of the highest levels of immigration (legal and illegal) in our history.

12 years of Tory mis-rule.

I despair of my Union. (Aslef) Voting for strike.

They have provided the Tories with their get-out for the 2024 General Elections. That they are a bit different to Labour (can take on unions.)

OMG ! Slaps forehead.

This vile party is actually the best thing ever for the Marxist revolution taking place. Purports to be Conservative whilst capitulating to the Blob and doing battle with an organisation which is actually more conservative than them ! (Aslef)

Anonymous said...

Don't say anything that upsets HMG too much. They may sanction you (freeze your assets and ruin you) even if you're a not-very-rich British citizen.

Trial? Judicial review? LOL. Not any more mate.

DJK said...

I can't tell if The Guardian approve or not of the sanctions on Graham Phillips. Peter Hitchens covers the case in the DM today and he's quite clear that it's wrong, and certainly not what Britain used to stand for. Really, what's the point of all the human rights legislation, not to mention Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, etc. if the government can just turn your life upside down for saying something on Youtube that they don't like.

Sobers said...

"And even if we did have these standards, could we build homes fast enough to change the energy profile? We lack the (unrestricted) land, the people, and the skills."

Exactly which houses in the UK don't have insulation now then? All new ones have staggering amounts. Even houses built 30 years ago have decent amounts (I live in one, its very snug). There have been grants available to insulate older houses for decades. Just about everyone has double glazing, roof insulation, cavity wall insulation (which often makes things worse, by promoting internal damp). The only houses left are the ones that can't be insulated much because either their construction method precludes it (older non cavity wall buildings) or where State actively prevents it (listed buildings - no double glazing for you!). People keep banging on about more insulation, could they point out the actual houses that need more insulation please?

Don Cox said...

The most likely houses to have poor insulation would be some owned by pensioners who bought them several decades ago. Maybe one house in a hundred ?

Why are the Rolls-Royce Small Modular Reactors taking so long ? They have been talking about them for years. The SMRs should be pouring out of the factories by now. Then there would be no need for Sizewell C.

Altogether there seems to be a strange lack of urgency.

Don Cox

Nick Drew said...

The whole RR SMR thing is very odd:

- they ain't SMRs, as generally understood: at 450 MW they are Magnox-size
- RR publicity material (CGI) always shows them by the sea-side, whereas the whole point about SMRs is to have them close to towns (a) to utilise the waste heat for district heating etc; (b) so you don't need to ship a workforce out to some remote coastal location for construction / installation
- RR has been building submarine nuke PPs for ever; and govt has indicated willingness to subsidise - so, as you say, DC - why the delay?

Sobers said...

"Altogether there seems to be a strange lack of urgency."

I've said for ages that if 'climate change' were real, then the Powers That Be would be moving heaven and earth to change things. I mean look what they did when they thought covid was the next Plague. So given that CC is (if you believe in it) a far greater threat to the existence of humanity than a virus that lets 99% of its victims survive, why the lack of urgency to actually do anything about it? The first thing to do would be to build nuclear power stations everywhere. If they'd started when all this was first mooted then they'd be built by now, and we'd have largely solved the problem (and not been in hock to Uncle Vlad). But no, nothing has been done except a lot of talking and pouring money into 'solutions' that obviously cannot be solutions, namely intermittent power sources, ie wind and solar.

These are not the actions of people who are convinced the world is going to end unless we act. So my conclusion is the PTB are not serious about CC, any more than Boris and Co were serious about the covid rules they blithely ignored, or Barack Obama is worried about sea level rises at his new Beach front house.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure nukes have something to do with the continued lack of interest in Thorium reactors, although you'd think they'd be interested if only as a good way of disposing of high level waste.

This French thing bugs me, it's absolutely pathetic that the country which built the world's first nuclear power station now has to get the French and Chinese to do it.

Blair was guilty of many things - opening the borders (and they are still open after a decade of Tory government) his greatest crime - but stopping all new nuclear build in 1998 was surely his next worst crime. Goodbye nuclear as a career for bright physicists - go work in the City!

Anonymous said...

I imagine the HS2 budget would have paid for insulating and triple glazing every property in the UK with plenty to spare, but I confess to not having done the maths.

(PS - fifty odd years ago in the first oil price shock, I was a summer-job labourer on a small development marketed to retired people as being well insulated therefore low heating bills. The guys doing the ceilings just banged them up whether there was insulation fitted above or not)

rwendland said...

> RR SMR thing is very odd - they ain't SMRs, as generally understood: at 450 MW they are Magnox-size

In fact, RR SMR is over double the size of the average Magnox reactor, and nearly the size of out current AGR reactors.

Rolls-Royce SMR has recently been enlarged to 470 MWe, and the average of Magnox reactor was 170 MWe, or 217 MWe if you exclude the 8 early military plutonium producing Magnox reactors.

Our Generation 2 AGR reactors, heading toward end-of-life circa 2028, have an average reactor size of 540 MWe nett, so the RR SMR is not much smaller than our current most numerous type. (Remember AGR stations have 2 reactors.)

It takes bigtime marketing chutzpah to call the Rolls-Royce SMR small, but it sure helps sell it to the govt and media. The classic SMR pitched of easy factory manufacture is in the 50 to 200 MWe range. Note RR say the build & test time is 4 years, not too far off traditional big nuc builders claims of about 5-6 years, and the RR marketing video says "modules ... assembled in a specially designed on-site factory". This really does not sound like the classic SMR promise of factory build of a handful of modules quickly bolted together at the site.

Anonymous said...


Here you go. Apologies in advance for using the E-word (Europe)

Note: There is evidence that the actual energy performance of our new homes is significantly worse than that assumed in the design. The performance gap is the difference between the design intent and the actual energy use.

Glad your cozy

rwendland said...

ND> What other explanations might there be? Is anyone convinced by SPRU's military hypothesis?

I think it is a mix of #1 Jobs & business profits and #2 support nuclear deterrent (& nuclear powered subs), plus perhaps a speculative reason of my own.

#1 Business, the unions (mainly Prospect) and some local councils jointly make a powerful lobby, seemingly very friendly with a civil service & national security group, to keep the well paid industry going.

#2 I generally go along with the SPRU military-related argument for a number of reasons.

- I'm very taken by SPRU's discovery that after the 2003 Energy White Paper, which essentially said nuclear power economics was hopeless, a largely secret Cabinet Office committee of civil servants was formed to re-examine the case for nuclear power, supported by former Atomic Energy Authority staff. Low-and-behold Blair reversed the no-nuclear power policy 2 years later after the election despite the economics not having changed.

- The Royal Navy has a serious staffing shortfall for nuclear weapons and submarine power plants, often referred to in Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator reports. The general feeling is that without civil opportunities it would be very difficult to get people to train into this field, and eventually the weapons and/or nuclear powered submarines could have to be given up. Handily an early 2017 Rolls Royce marketing doc for the SMR to govt spends a whole page on this topic, which I reproduce below.

- Boosted fission weapons, which every advanced nuke state has (currently all including North Korea, though not South Africa when it had nukes) generally require the Tritium boosting gas (12 year half life) to be replaced every 6 years or so. To make Tritium you need a nuclear reactor, so you at least need a few small reactors. Boosted weapons are enormously better than first generation atomic weapons: lets you make much smaller weapons, eg for smaller missiles, or more powerful ones using less fissionable material - every serious nuke state needs this.

- The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has a £237 billion (discounted) programme [Yep, ~4 * HS2] over 100 years, mostly to decommission our ridiculously too large Magnox programme, which had little design thought given to decommissioning, and also the early weapons plutonium making legacy at Sellafield. There will be a self=perpetuating (poor) argument we must keep skills going to carry out this decommissioning.

Finally my speculative thought. I suspect our govt National Security interests want to keep about 15-20% of electricity production by nuclear, so if we ever got into a war that blocked our import routes, the essential functions of the state could be kept going. Of course wind & PV weakens this argument, but it probably would take large scale battery deployment before it would change opinion in National Security circles. Though I have to say, I've never seen documentary evident to back-up this speculation.

rwendland said...

... Here is the Rolls-Royce report referred to above. The entire page 22 of "UK Small Modular Reactors: A National Endeavour" is on the civil programme supporting defence skills topic, showing Rolls Royce thought the government was seriously concerned about this. Best bits copied below:

"Advantages to the UK nuclear deterrent programme

One particular application for deployment of the talent developed through the UK SMR programme would be in the ongoing maintenance of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent. Currently, the UK Government is required to invest funding to sustain the skills and capability necessary for the maintenance of the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine programme. ...

The indigenous UK supply chain that supports defence nuclear programmes requires significant ongoing support to retain talent and develop and maintain capability between major programmes. Opportunities for the supply chain to invest in new capability are restricted by the limited size and scope of the defence nuclear programme. A UK SMR programme would increase the security, size and scope of opportunities for the UK supply chain significantly, enabling long-term sustainable investment in people, technology and capability.

Expanding the talent pool from which defence nuclear programmes can draw from would bring a double benefit. First, additional talent means more competition for senior technical and managerial positions, driving excellence and performance. Second, the expansion of a nuclear-capable skilled workforce through a civil nuclear UK SMR programme would relieve the Ministry of Defence of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability.This would free up valuable resources for other investments."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this egregiously on-topic contribution, Mr W !

Nick Drew said...

(That 'anon' thanks was from me, on my 'phone)