As the nuclear revival fails, ministers must look again at green energy
To have one nuclear power project collapse looked like bad luck for the UK government. But to allow two to fail in as many months would be careless and could prove fatal to ambitions for a nuclear revival. Toshiba pulled the plug on a Cumbrian plant in November and now Hitachi is poised to cancel its plans for a power station in Wales.
The withdrawal of the two Japanese players leaves a pair of state-owned firms, EDF of France and CGN of China, as the only serious contenders. Both face huge challenges. The backlash in some countries against the Chinese telecoms firm Huawei shows the risks CGN could face if authorities raise concerns over a Chinese state company putting its technology at the heart of the UK energy system.
EDF’s challenge is more prosaic – it has a mountain to climb to raise the finance needed for a second plant after Hinkley Point C in Somerset, even if it is able to cut the project’s costs as it claims.
The former MP Tim Yeo, a supporter of nuclear, has warned that if Hitachi walked away it could spell the end for the nuclear reboot. Well, that is now coming to pass. Despite the government tilting the playing field, projects are just not progressing as ministers had hoped.
There is no doubt that nuclear is good for achieving climate goals and augmenting the variable nature of renewables. But not at any price.
If and when Hitachi’s Wylfa project is scrapped, the government must do more than just reiterate its support for new nuclear. It must launch a major review of the future of low-carbon energy in the UK. There is still time to pivot to alternatives to new nuclear as old reactors are retired over the next decade.
Affordability, climate targets and energy security matter more than the loss of face from a change of mind on nuclear energy.