Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cameron & Sarkozy expose their nuclear hypocrisy

In a blaze of publicity, Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy have signed a £400m deal on new nuclear reactors between Rolls Royce and Areva at the same time as agreeing a joint control and command centre for military operations and celebrating their "tough stance" against Iran's nuclear programme.

Cameron said: "One year on from the Libya uprising, we are working together to stand up to the murderous Syrian regime and to stop a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran [sic]."

The two leaders agreed also to build a new generation of a controversial unmanned 'fighter drone' aircraft, which will allow targeted strikes, intended no doubt for use in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Anyone observing this from a Middle Eastern perspective might detect more than a whiff of hypocrisy here.

The £400m, which is as yet potential, would go to Rolls Royce to manufacture turbines for four possible reactors at a new factory in Rotherham, the first of which is the EPR reactor at Hinckley Point, Somerset.

Who gets the benefit?

DECC is claiming that the deal would support 1,200 new jobs across the nuclear supply chain in Britain.

However, as it covers four reactors, with each reactor costing £5bn upwards, the British contribution and benefit to the project would be less than 2%, (£100m per reactor).

This puts into perspective David Cameron's fine-sounding statement that "I want the vast majority of the content of our new nuclear plants to be constructed, manufactured and engineered by British companies".

He can want it as much as he likes, but it is not going to happen.

The actual size of the deal led Dr Tim Fox, Head of Energy at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, to comment that “Although it is welcome news that the UK is pressing ahead with the development of new nuclear reactors, to secure affordable low-carbon electricity generation, this is not necessarily the best deal for securing UK jobs and skills".

Quite, but there is little that is affordable about it either.

Nuclear costs

Nuclear costs have a habit of ballooning well over predictions, as has happened at recent new builds in France and Finland.

Areva's Olkiluoto reactor in Finland is five years behind schedule and costs have increased from €3-billion to €5.3-billion, causing the Finnish utility TVO to fight Areva in court.

It is still uncertain where utilities will get the funding for new nuclear power, making Cameron's vision of £60 billion for the nuclear industry and 30,000 jobs in the UK presently no more than a hope.

Dr Doug Parr from Greenpeace commented: "No amount of talking up of the French nuclear industry by David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy will cover up the fact that the economics of new nuclear reactors don't stack up.

"The track record of EDF in building new nuclear power stations on time and to budget is appalling."

Recently, the independent risk agency Standard and Poor downgraded EDF’s creditworthiness on account of it being, like Areva, state-owned.

"All this came just a few months after a French judge sentenced a number of EDF senior executives to prison for unscrupulous acts of spying. French nuclear power is no longer popular even in France," said Dr. Parr.

Greenpeace accuses Cameron of using UK taxpayers' money to prop up failing French industries, and urges him instead to "follow the lead of Germany and concentrate on securing vast numbers of jobs and economic growth in the rapidly expanding clean energy industries such as wind and solar power".

Solar, wind power and other renewables can be up and running inside 18 months of permission being granted, whereas nuclear newbuild takes over a decade.

″A corruption of governance"

The source of Government enthusiasm for a new fleet of nuclear power stations can be traced to ministers having misled parliament over the need for them by distorting evidence and presenting to MPs a false summary of the analysis they had commissioned.

This is alleged by a group of MPs and experts in a a report published earlier this month by the Association for the Conservation of Energy and pressure group Unlock Democracy.

It shows that, on the basis of the Government’s own evidence, we do not need any more new nuclear power stations in order to ‘keep the lights on’ and reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.

And it shows that, again on the basis of the Government’s own evidence, electricity generated by nuclear power is the not the least expensive of all low-carbon technologies.

In everyday terms, the building of new nuclear power stations to provide electricity is likely to mean higher fuel bills.

If MPs had been presented with an accurate picture of the evidence for and against new reactors, they say, the government's plans might have been challenged.

Both the previous Labour government and the current coalition overstated the evidence that new nuclear power was needed.

The two bodies label this "nothing less than a corruption of governance" which can "only be rectified if Parliament re-opens this debate, and MPs vote on this issue having seen the correct information".

Areva's need

Behind the scenes, Areva is desperate to find new markets for the uranium it owns, following the purchase in 2007 of Canadian company UraMin's three African mines for $2.5 billion. The mines are Trekkopje in Namibia, Bakouma in the Central African Republic and Ryst Kuil in South Africa.

But the UraMin mines have yet to prove their money's worth at today's price of $52 a pound.

This has brought financial and political chaos to the company, and in December it wrote down almost the entire value of the mines.

This prompted speculation that the deal had been a scam and a report commissioned by Areva's security service even speculated that Chief Executive Anne Lauvergeon's husband had "illegally benefited" from the takeover.

No proof has been found, but an internal report two days ago has urged "reforms in governance" of the company and the French industry ministry and parliament are each investigating the UraMin acquisition.

SSE's exit

If new nuclear power is so attractive, then why is SSE pulling out? The utility company announced its intention to pull out of the nuclear sector in September last year in order to focus its efforts on renewable energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects.

This week, it sold its stake in a nuclear joint venture NuGeneration (NuGen), for a cash consideration that could rise to £7m.

It has now completed the sale of its 25% stake in NuGen, which it jointly owned with partners GDF Suez and Iberdrola, parent company of ScottishPower.

Where the cash goes

The solar industry's reaction to the Cameron announcement, exemplified by Solar Century Jeremy Leggett's Twitter comment, is predictable: ″Cameron says nuclear deal with Sarkozy will create fully 1,500 jobs: And how many is he killing in solar?″

Although the mechanism is different, the broader truth is there: the cash for both nuclear and solar will come from increases in consumers' bills.

But who receives the income from the sale of that electricity? On the solar hand it is householders in the UK lucky enough to be able to afford the panels; on the nuclear hand it is a French utility, one of the Big Six we all love to hate.

Thank you Mr. Cameron, for supporting the export of British people's earnings to France.

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