Hinkley nuclear plant approval slammed by environmentalists

The EU approval of the Hinkley nuclear reactor in Somerset has been roundly condemned by senior figures in the renewable energy industry, who called the decision a "world record sell-out" and a "shocking decision".

The plant, to be built and operated by EDF, could generate 7% of the UK’s electricity, but climate activists said it offered poor value-for-money as well as a negative environmental impact.

Friends of the Earth policy and campaigns director Craig Bennett said: “This shocking decision will funnel billions of pounds of public money into the hands of EDF, and add to the mountain of nuclear waste that countless future generations will struggle to deal with.

“Scarce public funds should be targeted at clean technologies like wind and solar, whose costs are rapidly falling, rather than trying to breathe new life into the failing nuclear experiment – which remains extremely expensive after six decades of operation.”

The Hinkley deal guarantees EDF £17.6bn in subsidies through the Contracts for Difference scheme, in return for low-carbon electricity.

However Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr said: “According to my calculations the total subsidy to Hinkley over its lifetime would be much higher at £37bn, with a £14 increase per household per year.

“Nuclear has been delivering power at the same real cost for over 50 years and it would require a huge level of optimism based on little evidence to suppose that historic flat-lining would be changed now.

“In contrast renewable energy is on a downward price curve, in the case of solar very rapidly indeed, and subsidy may be justified in bringing a technology to its technological potential,” he added.

His sentiments were echoed by Greenpeace legal adviser Andrea Carter, who said “This is a world record sell-out to the nuclear industry at the expense of taxpayers and the environment. It’s such a distortion of competition rules that the commission has left itself exposed to legal challenges.

“There is absolutely no legal, moral or environmental justification in turning taxes into guaranteed profits for a nuclear power company whose only legacy will be a pile of radioactive waste. This is a bad plan for everyone except EDF.”

Pro Hinkley

The reaction was not unanimously frosty, as the Confederation of British Industry lauded the possible financial benefits of the nuclear plant.

“Hinkley should set the ball rolling for the UK’s nuclear new build programme, putting us on the right path to achieving a secure and sustainable energy mix,” said CBI Director-General John Cridland.

“It represents a real opportunity for growth, with the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs for people – not just in the local community, but up and down the whole country.”

Perhaps predictably the decision was also welcomed by the nuclear workers union Prospect.

Prospect deputy general-secretary Garry Graham said: “This is fantastic for jobs, consumers and the UK economy.”

“More importantly, this will give confidence for what has been termed the UK nuclear renaissance and provide the impetus for other nuclear new-build sites, including NuGen in Cumbria and Horizon at Oldbury and Wylfa.”

One potential spanner in the works could come from the Austrian government, which has said it will bring legal action against the European Commission’s decision on the basis that guaranteed prices and subsidies for electricity should be reserved for renewable energy sources.

Brad Allen

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