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New UK nuclear electricity by 2019 a 'significant challenge' - experts

11 Sep 2012 17:11:48 | edem

Delivering a new nuclear reactor in the UK by 2019 poses a "significant challenge", engineering experts told the UK Parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee on Tuesday.

And Institution of Mechanical Engineers head of energy and environment Tim Fox told the committee that it was more important to deliver on the government's stated target of 16GW of new nuclear build by 2025 than for French generator EDF to build its proposed Hinkley Point C project, in southwest England, by 2019.

Fox added that meeting the 2019 target is less important than developing a co-ordinated strategy for project delivery between government, regulators and private sector investors.

"It's actually less important to meet that date than it is to set off on the journey of building new nuclear in a well-coordinated fashion. We would be better advised to do the preparation and the groundwork and prepare ourselves, rather than focusing on the 2019 date," he said.

Forecasts of installed capacity on the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) website do not factor in the arrival of Hinkley Point C until 2022, indicating that government sources believe a 2019 deadline might not be achievable (see EDEM 31 July 2012).

Institution of Civil Engineers fellow John Earp said that EDF would probably fund Hinkley Point C from its own balance sheet, but any subsequent projects would need off-balance-sheet financing.

"If you want 16GW by 2025 to meet climate-change goals, then you need [construction of] one reactor a year, starting from 2013 onwards. That is a huge commitment financially," he said.

Certainty

Earp reiterated the need for the UK government - which last week changed energy ministers under Prime Minister David Cameron's first cabinet reshuffle - to reassure investors that a stable investment environment and policy certainty would be maintained.

"Energy market reform is a component of trying to unlock investment, but there is a strong need for a stable long-term view. Set the policy in place - the exact nuances of the policy are less important than getting the framework in place as quickly as possible," he said.

Pointing to recurrent delays in France's new Flamanville nuclear power station and Olkiluto 3 in Finland, Construction Industry Training Board strategy director Steve Geary said the UK had a shortage of workers with experience of working on nuclear projects.

"The delays in nuclear projects were caused by skills - not so much technical skills, but an appreciation of the quality standards required for nuclear sites," he said.

The committee asked whether it would be easier to finance smaller nuclear reactors of 300-400MW in size, rather than the 1GW reactors proposed by EDF.

Fox said the government would first need to undertake an assessment of smaller reactors overseas and decide whether they could be built in the UK, which could take years: "Also, electricity transmission infrastructure would need to be configured to be able to use those reactors." KB

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