High cost of Hinkley Point prompts questions over value of nuclear energy
Jim Pickard and Andrew Ward in London MAY 5, 2018
The Labour party is divided over whether to back nuclear power stations in the UK, creating further uncertainty over the future of several new plants that are seen as crucial to Britain’s energy security.
The high cost of the Hinkley Point power station, under construction for £20bn in Somerset, has prompted questions across Westminster about whether nuclear still represents value for money.
The debate is especially intense within the opposition Labour party, where some MPs favour the industrial benefits of building power stations, while a growing faction wants to support only renewable wind and solar energy programmes.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow business secretary, remains adamant that Labour should continue to support Wylfa, as well as another project at Moorside in Cumbria. “Public investment in nuclear energy would bring huge benefits through the nuclear supply chain and energy security,” she said last year.
Ms Long-Bailey’s position is also supported by Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary, whose constituency is in Cumbria. Large unions, including Unite and the GMB, are also strong advocates of nuclear energy.
But other senior Labour figures are arguing for a U-turn, unless the cost of new nuclear plants can be reduced sharply.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, is a life-long sceptic of nuclear power, although he swung behind it early last year, just before a by-election in Copeland, home of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site and the proposed Moorside plant.
Mr Corbyn is understood to have given Ms Long-Bailey free rein on the issue, despite his own anti-nuclear instincts.
“In private, Jeremy is against, as is the majority of the shadow cabinet, but no one wants to put Rebecca in an awkward position,” said one of his allies. “The big question is whether John [McDonnell] would personally sign off all the loan guarantees and subsidies needed, which I don’t believe [he would].”
Horizon and other nuclear developers are aiming to reduce the cost of constructing nuclear plants by 20 to 30 per cent compared with Hinkley, in an effort to remain competitive against the falling cost of renewables.
Senior people in the nuclear industry said they remained confident about Labour’s continued support for their projects, because of the strength of union backing.
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