Nuclear renaissance. What nuclear renaissance?

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The Financial Times (FT) reported in April that the parliamentary Energy Select Committee is to invite executives from big energy companies to a meeting, "amid concerns that Britain's 'nuclear renaissance' is under threat."

No wonder: the UK government is committed to plans for new nuclear power stations at eight sites, each with one or two reactors. However German power companies E-ON and RWE, the intended builders at two of these sites - at Wylfa in Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire - had announced that they were selling their Horizon joint venture to build nuclear reactors in Britain, in part because of financial difficulties caused by Germany's retreat from atomic power after the Fukushima disaster. It has been suggested that Russian energy company Russcom (Chernobyl!), two Japanese energy companies (Fukushima!), and the Chinese State Nuclear Power Corporation might be interested, but Tim Yeo, Conservative chair of the energy select committee is reported by the Financial Times as saying that it was "ominous" that no buyer had come forward to buy Horizon.

There are also problems with plans at the other sites. French energy company EDF Energy was the prospective builder of nuclear reactors at Heysham in Lancashire, Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk.

As far as Heysham is concerned, EDF announced on 14th March that it had cancelled an agreement with the National Grid to set up any new connections for a new power station there and that its plans for new stations will be focussed on its sites at Hinkley and Sizewell. An EDF spokesman was reported as saying, "This does not stop us from approaching National Grid for a similar connection offer for any planned future build at Heysham." This does not make such future build sound very likely!

Then, on April 7th it was reported that Centrica, the UK firm that has a 20% stake in EDF's UK holdings, was threatening to pull out of the joint venture to build Hinkley Point and Sizewell due to its unhappiness with the level of government price guarantees for providing nuclear-generated energy. If this happens, will EDF take on the whole financial burden of building. Will the 20% stake be bought by another energy company? Will the government buy it? Tim Yeo, for his part is reported by the FT as saying that he is "very alarmed" by this threat of Centrica's withdrawal and as also warning that the election of Socialist Fran├žois Hollande in the French presidential elections was a "risk factor" for Britain's nuclear programme. EDF is majority-owned by the French state.

Another headache for EDF is that Moody's credit agency has threatened to downgrade the credit worthiness of EDF and Centrica if they go ahead with the planned building of two nuclear reactors each at Hinkley and Sizewell, because of the huge cost and uncertainties involved. This would raise the cost of EDF's borrowing. To avoid this possibility, might EDF drop plans for newbuild at Sizewell. The prospects for building at Sizewell were also presumably dented a government analysis, as reported by the Guardian on March 7th, found that Sizewell was already at "high risk" of flooding from the sea.

A 5th intended site is at Sellafield in Cumbria. The consortium due to build the station here is NuGen, a joint venture by Belgian-French company GDF-Suez and the Spanish company, Iberdrola. But on 15th January, GDF-Suez suggested that it might pull out, with its CEO announcing that GDF needed "more financial incentives" if it was to go ahead.

That leaves us with Bradwell in Essex and Hartlepool in Lancashire. These sites are both currently owned by EDF-Energy, but EDF has agreed with the Government to sell the Bradwell site to a "competitor", but has so far failed to do so, either because it unsurprisingly has not really tried, or no buyer has emerged.

As for Hartlepool, EDF has shown no sign either of wanting to build a station there or to sell the site. And the Hartlepool site was also found by the government analysis reported above as currently at "high risk" of flooding by the sea.

So, the UK's vaunted "Nuclear Renaissance" is so far limited to EDF clearing the site at Hinkley!



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