Although, British Prime Minister, Theresa May is in the middle of a political crisis over her Brexit plans, she was dealt another major blow at the end of last week when the Japanese company, Hitachi, announced it was halting work on a multi-billion dollar nuclear plant in the UK.
The proposed new nuclear plant, called Wylfa Newydd, on the island of Anglesey off North Wales, was one of a number of new nuclear plants which were at the centre of the Government’s flagship low carbon energy strategy.
But that strategy is in deep trouble after the Japanese pulled out as they weren’t able to reach an agreement on financing with the British Government, with the plant estimated to cost in excess of $30 billion.
Duncan Hawthorne, chief executive of Hitachi’s nuclear business, Horizon Nuclear Power, said last week: “I am very sorry to say that, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, we’ve not been able to reach an agreement to the satisfaction of all concerned.”
The British Government’s pro-nuclear plans are beginning to unravel. Hitachi’s decision followed that by Toshiba to scrap another plant in Cumbria in North West England.
Indeed, as the BBC noted, of the six proposed new nuclear plants planned for the UK, “only one is under construction, three have been abandoned and two face an uphill battle to get the green light. Under those circumstances you might think the government would be embarrassed that its energy policy was in disarray.”
The Shadow Business Secretary, Rebecca Long Bailey, from the Labour Party, added the government’s nuclear strategy was now “lying in tatters” and had “escalated into a full-blown crisis”.
According to the Financial Times, Hitachi’s move also “begs the question whether nuclear is an affordable part of the UK’s energy strategy,” with the Government’s energy strategy looking “woefully flawed”.
In a damning statement, the paper noted: “It is baffling that as the costs of replacing old nuclear plants with new ones have steadily risen and those associated with solar and wind power have dropped, the government has done so little to correct course.”
The paper and many leading energy experts have now called on the Government to undertake a “comprehensive, independent and strategic review” of British energy policy and whether nuclear even has a future as the costs of solar and wind plummet. Indeed, the paper said that the review “should consider the falling price of renewables”.
They were not the only one calling for a rethink. As the Guardian noted: “The problem, in a nutshell, is that the new generation of nuclear power stations is proving too expensive.”
The paper said that the question of “onshore wind and solar subsidies” needed to be revisited. It said that “Affordable offshore wind must be scaled up.”
Not surprisingly, the renewables industry agrees with them. As one renewables online report noted: “Renewables organisations have urged the UK government to plug a 9GW hole in its low-carbon energy policy with ‘shovel-ready’ wind and solar capacity after Hitachi suspended its nuclear development programme.”
The chief executive of the trade body, RenewableUK, Emma Pinchbeck, said: “We have a pipeline of shovel-ready onshore wind projects that can provide cheap power to consumers and help close the gap on our carbon targets and it is time government allowed onshore wind compete on a level-playing field.”
According to Pinchbeck, there are nearly 800 renewable projects that are ready to go and have already won planning consent. Together they would generate around 12 terawatt hours of energy a year; two thirds of what Wylfa would have produced and without leaving a toxic legacy.
However, Pinchbeck argues the UK government has “stacked the odds” against building onshore wind as the industry cannot compete for subsidies such as the nuclear, oil, and gas industries can.
But even with lavish subsidies, are the days of expensive new nuclear now numbered? The problem for nuclear is that it is joining coal as yesterday’s technology, made redundant by the coming renewable and technological revolution.
As Catherine Mitchell, Professor of Energy Policy, at Exeter University noted after the Hitachi decision:
“Nuclear power is now one of the most expensive form of electricity there is. But beyond the economics, it no longer fits with the digitalising world that we live in. The global energy system is undergoing change similar to that in telecoms and computers over the last few decades.”
She continued: “The energy system is becoming smarter and more flexible and it is on the path to being operated in a completely different way than hitherto because of that.”
She added that: “Going down the nuclear route has been a wasted decade for UK energy policy.”