Three leading experts urge government to end nuclear project saying delays will create panicked scramble back to fossil fuels
Three leading environmentalists who broke ranks to give their support to a new generation of nuclear plants have now urged the government to scrap plans for Hinkley Point C.
The call comes as George Osborne and Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, head off to China, where they will discuss Beijing’s proposed investment in the new nuclear plant in Somerset.
George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall say the soaring cost and delays to the Hinkley project leave ministers with no option but to pour the estimated £24.5bn worth of investment into other low-carbon technologies.
“Hinkley C bears all the distinguishing features of a white elephant: overpriced, overcomplicated and overdue. The delay that was announced recently should be the final straw. The government should kill the project,” they write in a comment piece for the Guardian.
“The new delay should not surprise anyone who’s aware of the technological issues,” said Tony Roulstone, who runs the masters programme in nuclear engineering at Cambridge University. He argues that the plan for Hinkley C is like “building a cathedral within a cathedral”. It is, he concludes, “unconstructable”.
Most environmentalists are opposed to nuclear power on the grounds of safety fears and the difficulties of dealing with atomic waste. But Monbiot and others broke the consensus by arguing that climate change was a greater threat. This delighted the nuclear industry and successive UK governments that have supported nuclear, partly as it contrasts with the intermittent nature of wind and solar power.
EDF, the French energy group, promoting Hinkley, has already won a generous financial aid package from the government through its “contract for difference” mechanism but has yet to sign the definitive deal it needs with Beijing investors.
This is expected to happen when the Chinese premier visits the UK next month, leaving EDF in a position to finally give the green light to the first nuclear plant to be built in the UK for 20 years.
But the energy company and its French engineering partner, Areva, have been beset by problems, leaving a growing number of former supporters from the world of energy and the City to question the viability of the whole project.
Monbiot and his colleagues are particularly worried that a failure to build a new nuclear plant on time will force more gas and even coal to be burned, a move that would exacerbate global warming.
They write: “The greatest problem Hinkley C imposes is energy blight. As the project is delayed, the power it would otherwise have generated is likely to be supplied instead by fossil fuel plants. If it does indeed turn out to be unconstructable, the result is likely to be a panicked scramble back into gas and even, perhaps, coal.”