As the nu­clear re­vival fails, min­is­ters must look again at green en­ergy

The Observer - - Analysis -

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.

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