Monday 19 February 2024

The Sizewell C 'RAB' Abomination

A couple of weeks ago at Mr Wendland's prompting, I undertook to post on the putative Sizewell C contract, currently "under negotiation" with EDF and various financial parties.  I'd said it was worse than the Hinkley Point contract - hard to believe, but true.  We know it will be on a "Regulated Asset Base" footing, which has been used in the USA and elsewhere since time immemorial but in this SZC manifestation has some nasty new twists.  Other aspects are broadly known, but as with Hinkley, the final document will be secret, so there's always a limit as to what we'll get.  (There are aspects of Hinkley we only know because the EC published them.) 

Anyhow, I was duly working up a post; but this morning have been handsomely beaten to the punch by the redoubtable Citizens Advice in their response to a consultation.  Well, a very big hat-tip to them, and here's the link.  Adjusting for the fact that their language is naturally diplomatic, you can't do better than read this to get the full horror of what's being proposed.  It's only 16 pp - but if you're pushed for time, just the first 3 pages gives you the basics.



Anonymous said...

"the appeals envisaged here relate to whether the construction costs of a nuclear power station are being efficiently incurred, not to whether the regulatory framework itself is reasonable. The CMA has no obvious expertise in nuclear construction costs. Given the novel nature of the asset being built, it is hard to know how it could build that expertise to allow it to carry out this function efficiently."

I can see EDF, already in enough trouble at Flamanville and Olkiluoto, blackmailing the UK pretty much indefinitely.

Nick Drew said...

If you read between the lines in the early pages, blackmail is pretty much stewed into HMG's thinking

Anonymous said...

The author's background is here but the question arises as to why the CAB are commenting and why the CAB think there is a need to fund Mr Hall's role?

CAB have moved from being generalists, staffed by volunteers to a contract-seeking employer of a lot of full time people. Not quite a think tank but likely on their development plan somewhere.

Why does HMG want to fund external bodies to do their thinking for them?

Nick Drew said...

CAB is the only statutory consultee representing the ordinary punter. You think there shouldn't be one??

dearieme said...

I suppose it wold be terribly backward-looking to suggest we just build lots of copies of our submarine motors and recruit retired RN men to run them.

Nick Drew said...

build lots of copies of our submarine motors

err, that's more or less what RR proposes to do with its soi-dissant Small Modular Reactors. (But they ain't 'small' at all)

Anonymous said...

It's a tragedy that

a) the EDF "new generation" reactors turned out to be such an unmoderated pile of excrement

b) that the UK government put all our money on them NOT being a pile of excrement

c) and Blair's 1998 decision to scrap all new nuclear build meant that it was either the French, the Chinese or the Russians - because Britain no longer had the ability or wherewithal to build gigawatt-plus power stations.

Anonymous said...

otoh there was always the ex-BNFL owned Westinghouse, but presumably the issues which led to their 2017 bankruptcy (big EDF-style cost overrruns) were known about.

China seems to be able to get Westinghouse tech to work, even if the Septics struggle.

Nick Drew said...

What's often forgotten is that Sizewell B (a PWR) has been an outstanding success (by the standards of nukes, admittedly a low bar) - performs to spec, pretty reliable, likely to have a very long life

in context, quite the British success story ...

Matt said...

@ ND

Is there some reason we can't just copy & paste the Sizewell B design? Lack of manufacturing capability? With the money HMG is spunking around, we could build a bespoke factory for all the parts if required.

Nick Drew said...

In strictly power-engineering terms, I don't know why not

What I do know is that post Fukushima, that design would need major "safety"-related updates if it was to be built from scratch today, to meet current regs

Matt said...

I already know the answer, but as a sovereign nation, can't we fix the regulations instead?

Sobers said...

"What I do know is that post Fukushima, that design would need major "safety"-related updates if it was to be built from scratch today, to meet current regs"

Yes, because the UK is well known for suffering earthquakes and tsunamis........we are governed by morons.

Nick Drew said...

Sobers, Matt - funnily enough, one of the issues at Sizewell C is related to potential natural disasters, and in this case the authorities - well, actually the government - are accused of NOT taking them adequately into account.

SZA and SZB are built on a rocky outcrop (rather like Hinkley Point, in fact), but EDF has run out of rocky land on the site, and a big slice of the SZC footprint will be on swampy ground = an old riverbed. OK, that's just a civil engineering challenge, though it will push up the costs

HOWEVER ... where exactly is Sizewell? Oh yes, on the North Sea coast, famous over the millennia for relentless erosion. The precise Sizewell bit of the Suffolk coast has been uncharacteristically stable for several decades now, protected by an offshore sandbar which is the result of erosion just a bit to the north. But that sandbar is itself now being eaten away. The large swampy area to the north of SZ has been intertidal in recorded history, and according to the RSPB (which manages it) they expect it to be inundated again within the next 50 years. At that point, SZC's northern flank will have been turned, and will periodically be subject to ocean waves. EDF considers an 18m seawall is necessary to protect SZC on its eastern (seaward) flank, but proposes no protection to the north. All the flood maps explicitly show the risk of the entire SZ site becoming an island periodically. EDF has published no plan for this.

This lack of flanking wave protection, & no plan for operating in island mode is one of the reasons the Planning Inspectorate refused to approve SZC. (The other was that there is no identifiable source of fresh water in the quantities SZC will require, particularly in the construction phase.) But Boris instructed that the PI be overruled, which it duly was, and the DCO was granted anyway.

So - maybe not earthquakes and tsunamis: but how about good old east coast erosion? Maybe you'll think, OK, flooded in 50 years time, so what?

Well: let's say SZC starts up in, ooh, 2035? (which would be a miracle in itself). Then 60 year operational life ... then required to retain the really problematic radioactive materials onsite for another 100 years ... (and please don't tell me you're willing to have them moved instead to another site near you)

So maybe the "just get on with it" argument is - OK, we'll build a north-facing seawall after the first encroachment takes place. Well (a) check out the North Sea floods of 1953 - it might not be just a gentle affair; and (b) who's gonna pay for it? I think we know.

I just hate being lied to, that's all.

Sobers said...

@ND:None of all that has a fig to do with what happened at Fukushima, so why say that any costs of protecting Sizewell C are down to it? They aren't, they are down to the natural conditions here in the UK not Japan. If Sizewell C needs protecting from erosion and North Sea storm surges, thats just a cost of building a nuclear power plant on the N Sea coast. Fukushima doesn't come into it. We won't be building it to survive a 9.0 earthquake and a 14m tsunami wave will we?

And as for the morons, who decided we don't need to bother about protecting it from the North sea?

Nick Drew said...

That would be B.Johnson

Nick Drew said...

as regards Fukushima, I'm simply reporting to you the plain fact that the spec on (almost) all new nukes worldwide was ratcheted upwards after, and because of, F - to cater for more adverse scenarios. That's "why I said it". I didn't defend it.

Anonymous said...

Way OT, but our favourite A E-P is bullish on Ukraine.

"Russia is moving ineluctably towards economic exhaustion. It would be a monumental error for the West to lose its nerve now."

I love his writing style, been reading him 20-odd years, but his track record is meh, having forecast 15 of the last 3 recessions.

Nick Drew said...

Re: AE-P ...

does anyone remember good old Perry Worsthorne in the Sunday Tel etc? He was a great contrarian, always good for a laugh and a bit of a pause for thought with his unexpected takes on things

But he didn't get into demented economic (or indeed military) prognostications like AE-P

Forecasting specific economic & market parameters is truly batshit crazy. Just simply on any empirical assessment, it fails grotesquely all the time, whoever tries their hand at it

not to mention that (beyond the shortest of intervals) intellectually it has no rational basis whatever

Anonymous said...

I do. Perry was so crusty that he was able to do a TV show with some black lefty guy, touring what not so long ago was the Red Wall areas.

I note from his entertaining wiki that he was mostly brought up by his family butler. And he did get to bag Lucy Lambton, admittedly when she was pushing 50.

Sobers said...

"That would be B.Johnson"

Precisely - governed by morons.

Anonymous said...

100% OT, but an interesting talk on Ukraine by a retired German general, in his day extremely high in NATO, the chairman of NATO's military committee 20 years ago, Harald Kujat.

Alas in German, but it's been dubbed and subtitled.

Certainly not the view you get from RUSI or our so-called "Defence Intelligence".

Nick Drew said...

Thanks, anon - that's worthwhile viewing

((doesn't mean I agree with him))

I think we're due a cautious Ukraine post: there's been another good www contribution today -

((doesn't mean I agree with that, either))