The delay comes amidst new uncertainty over the project following the appointment of an anti-nuclear Energy Secretary Chris Huhne. In today's Times (1) Chris Huhne strengthened his assertion that new nuclear build will not receive any Government subsidies including in the event of a nuclear accident. This is a hardening of position from the previous Labour Government who had not insisted on full liability insurance for the proposed generation of reactors. The cost of full insurance may well be prohibitive to developers such as EdF Energy who want to build two giant reactors on the Somerset coast.
Chris Huhne may also be under pressure from anti-nuclear Lib-Dem colleagues to examine other potential aspects of Government subsidy such as the Labour proposal for fixed pricing of nuclear waste management after the expected 60 year life of the reactors. This pricing model would give some assurance to the industry over future costs of nuclear waste disposal but could be at the expense of tax-payers. A Deep Disposal Repository is thought to cost between £12 and £20 billion. But no country in the world has a working deep repository and future costs could spiral. Barack Obama last year threw out the proposed US repository at Yucca Mountain in Utah after 20 years of development and the German nuclear repository has been mired in controversy following the discovery of misinformation from former Chancellor Helmut Kohl over its safety. Obligingly to the nuclear industry, the Labour Government missed out the risks of no repository being available in the recent 300 page National Nuclear Policy Statement. Chris Huhne will have the job of rewriting this document with obvious risks to nuclear developers.
It is not clear yet what the Energy Secretary plans for the unelected quango which is the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC). The Conservatives have vowed to break it up in favour of a more democratic and locally accountable planning process with ministerial sign-off. In any case a rewritten Nuclear Policy Statement (NPS) to guide the planning process may also involve the appraisal of the on-site spent fuel store which EdF want to build alongside Hinkley C. The spent nuclear fuel will be so hot and radioactive it will need to cool in the storage pond for one hundred years when it comes out of the reactor. Given the 60 year life of the reactors, the dangerous toxic fuel would be sited at Hinkley and other nuclear sites for 160 years but inexplicably the Labour NPS document did not require the IPC to examine this crucial part of the power station planning application.
Chris Huhne's colleague and former Shadow Energy Secretary, Simon Hughes, has called for a public inquiry into the 'Justification' of new nuclear build. The 'Justification' process is an EU requirement to judge the health detriment of new radioactive processes against any benefits. Governments can call a public inquiry to make this judgement but the Labour Government signaled that pro-nuclear Ed Milliband would say yes or no in his role as Energy Secretary. Stop Hinkley supported other campaigners and academics (2) in saying this biased approach was wrong and in fairness a public inquiry was needed. If Chris Huhne does set up the inquiry this will delay EdF and other nuclear proposals, adding to their costs and increasing the likelihood of the development not taking place.
No information on the reason for the Hinkley C planning application delay is currently (Saturday evening) available on either the Infrastructure Planning Commission website or that of EdF Energy, with no press releases on the latter website since January this year. But the Projects page of the IPC website (3) clearly shows the new delayed date.
Reactions to EdF consultation
EdF Energy has also been expected to launch the second phase of its local consultation on Hinkley C for some time with an anticipated date of late spring or early summer. They received over 1,000 replies to the first round of their consultation from which the results have still not been revealed. According to their December '08 Hinkley C Newsletter (4), respondents to a pilot questionnaire felt the top 'issues that needed to be addressed to a very great extent' (EdF's emphasis) were:
Pollution / emissions control 77%
Health and safety of surrounding communities 75%
Traffic on local roads 68%
Since then the 'Save Cannington Action Group' has called for a complete rerouting of traffic through the village and for the abandonment of plans for hostels, park and ride schemes and a lorry depot which campaigners say would traumatise the village. 800 Canningtonians signed a petition to this effect.
Williton residents have also called for plans for hostels to be thrown out with a West Somerset Free Press poll showing a large majority against local hostels. The local view seems to be that the anticipated 4,000 workers should be accommodated within the massive 500 acre Hinkley site.
In an unusual act of defiance, West Somerset Council last month rejected an EdF planning application to dig twenty trenches near the village of Shurton after numbers of angry villagers wrote in to say the plan was not justified and development should be contained nearer the coast (5).
Jim Duffy, spokesman for Stop Hinkley said: "It's an uncertain time right now for the nuclear industry with the sudden requirement on them to insure their reactors against a nuclear disaster. This and other costs which the taxpayer was expected to underwrite may well be making EdF think twice about their giant projects at Hinkley and Sizewell. I hope Chris Huhne and his colleagues stick to their guns over public subsidies, reverse the unelected fast-track planning process and set up the public inquiry on nuclear justification that top academics have called for. These are fair requirements but the industry might just find they can't match them. If they walk away it will be a relief for many, many people."
Stop Hinkley Coordinator
(1) Times 15th May 2010:
David Cameron strode into the Department for Energy and Climate Change. “I want this to be the greenest government ever." “I’m not ideologically opposed to nuclear,” Mr Huhne insisted. “My scepticism is based on whether or not they can make it work without public subsidy. One of the things the coalition agreed with some passion in the current circumstances of fiscal restraint was that there will be no public subsidy for nuclear power.” Even support in the event of a disaster was out of the question, he said. “That would count as a subsidy absolutely. There will be no public bailouts . . . I have explained my position to the industry and said public subsidies include contingent liabilities.” This is an important hardening of the position held by the Labour administration and could make it much harder for companies to finance the plants. “It is a challenge for them, as no-one has yet built a nuclear power station without public subsidy for some time.” Charles Hendry, the Tory Energy Minister, will be responsible for overseeing nuclear policy, Mr Huhne said. He added that he would prefer not to give his personal preferences.
(2) Western Daily Press on Stop Hinkley support for calls for Justification inquiry:
Guardian 11th March on 90 academics' calls for public inquiry:
(3) IPC Projects page with new date for anticipated Hinkley C application:
(4) Hinkley Point Newsletter July '09:
(5) BBC report on council rejection of EdF planning application