Energy Select Committee calls on UK government for nuclear back-up plan

04 March 2013 16:34 Source:ICIS

The UK government is overly optimistic on the delivery of a new nuclear plant by 2025 and should formulate a contingency plan, the House of Commons Energy Select Committee said in a report.

"Given that ultimately these decisions are beyond the government's control, it is worrying that DECC does not have any contingency plans in place for the event that little or no new nuclear is forthcoming," said the committee.

"Crossing one's fingers is not an adequate or responsible approach when the UK's legally binding climate change commitments and energy security are at stake."

The UK hopes to bring on line three new nuclear plants in the coming years. The first being a 1.6GW plant at the Hinkley Point site. Other projects in the pipeline include a 3.6GW plant a Moorside by GDF SUEZ and Iberdrola, and 6GW of capacity at Wylfa and Oldbury by Hitiachi.

"A number of witnesses suggested that the government was overly optimistic. The Civil Engineering Contractors Association told us that the government's indicative time line for new nuclear was 'unrealistic'," the report continued. While Greenpeace believed it was "increasingly unlikely that any nuclear reactors will be built before 2025".

The report raised doubts over whether Hinkley Point C could be completed without a time and cost overrun. It pointed at the floundering nuclear projects at Flamanville and Olkiluoto as examples.

"EDF is planning to use the same reactor design [as Flamanville's] for its project at Hinkley Point C and some witnesses have little confidence that similar delays will be avoided in the UK," it said.

Capacity concerns

The report comes amid recent speculation that the UK is facing a capacity squeeze that could bring it to a "near crisis". Prompted, it said, by the number of coal-fired plants coming off line due to the Large Combustion Plant Directive. In light of this, British regulator Ofgem called on the government to re-consider the industrial emissions directive.

Greenpeace has claimed that capacity demand could be met without nuclear power by expanding the UK's renewable generation capacity.

"The fact new nuclear may not deliver is not news to anyone who's been following the issue. Instead of putting all its effort into covertly subsidising nuclear, the government needs a plan B with energy efficiency and renewables at its core, which are able to deliver now," said Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace.

The government came under fire for not formulating a mechanism of financial support for the new builds, and consequently undermining investor confidence from Alistair Smith, chairman of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Power Industries Division.

"In order for the country to have secure, low-carbon electricity supplies long term, the UK needs to establish a balanced electricity mix with low-carbon electricity from nuclear and renewable energy plants supported by flexible gas-fired generation, and in the longer term, potentially carbon capture and storage technology," he said in a statement.

"Whilst this has been government policy since 2008, the reforms required to encourage the market to follow this strategy have been painfully slow to take effect and as a result, very few power plants have been built over the past five years." Katie McQue

By Katie McQue