Thursday, 16 November 2017

Expanded energy horizons narrowed by cheerleader nuclear authors



I have read many poor reports cheerleading for nuclear power in over 35 years researching nuclear power policy. A new report commissioned by Horizon Nuclear published this week titled ‘Expanding Horizons: The Role for New Nuclear in the UK’s Energy Mix’ (

by Max Wind-Cowie and Dr Paul Norman for conservative think-tank ResPublica wins the prize for the very worst and most inaccurate in memory.


This is odd, as ResPublica – which describes itself as “an independent non-partisan think tank” - has a reasonable reputation for challenging, radical thinking from the right; and the authors would appear to have quality credentials: Max Wind-Cowie, who has worked previously at  left  leaning think tank Demos and for consumer group Which? was seconded to the prestigious National Infrastructure Commission (NIC, in August 2017 and Dr Paul Norman is listed in the report as the Co-Director of the Birmingham Centre for Nuclear Education & Research at Birmingham University, and is described on the centre’s web  site as a Reader in Nuclear Engineering & Reactor Physics at the School of Physics and Astronomy. (


The report is however replete with factual errors, errors of omission and commission and it makes me worry that the NIC would want to second someone with such  demonstrably poor credentials and  Birmingham University would employ as a co- director in an educational centre someone prepared to  put their name to such a shoddy, factually challenged report.

Let me highlight a few of the more egregiously inaccurate:

The second sentence of the Introduction reads “In 1956, this country opened the world’s first commercial nuclear power station at Calder Hall (now Sellafield) in Cumbria,”

This is both factually wrong and highly misleading, and suggests the authors either rhave not done their research properly, or  are prepared to perpetuate uncritically a nuclear industry myth. The truth is Calder Hall’s four reactors were designed and built to manufacture  plutonium for  the Ministry of Defence   by the then UK Atomic Energy Authority, with electricity and reactor operating experience a spin –off.

In fact it was clearly stated at the time of the plant’s opening, in a remarkable little book entitled Calder Hall: The Story of Britain’s First Atomic Power Station, written by Kenneth Jay, and published by the Government’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell to mark Calder’s commissioning in October 1956.  Mr Jay wrote:

Major plants built for military purposes such as Calder Hall are being used as prototypes for civil plants . . . the plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power . . . it would be wrong to pretend that the civil programme has not benefitted from, and is not to some extent dependent upon, the military programme."


The very next, ie the third, sentence reads:

The UK led the world in harnessing the power that nuclear technology unlocked and, in doing so, was able to keep homes warm and lit without dependence on imports such as gas from overseas.” ( my emphasis) This shares the same fault as the second sentence, being both  factually wrong and misleading.

As the UK has no economically recoverable uranium reserves, all uranium used in all British reactors is imported, and is thus 100% dependent on imports to make the fuel for nuclear power plants.

Surely the authors must know this simple fact, so why did they write the opposite?

Later in the introduction, the authors opine :

“Britain’s new nuclear programme, currently, is ready to go and is necessary to meet Britain’s medium and long-term ambitions on both energy security and decarbonisation.”

This assertion is not so much factually wrong, as a perverse interpretation of the facts I have already  pointed out that nuclear provides no energy security, as the raw material for its fuel are imported ( and once the UK leaves Euratom, will no longer have the subsidised assistance of the collective buying power of the EU to procure it); nuclear power  is not  necessary to meet UK decarbonisation targets, Indeed, if the full nuclear fuel chain from uranium mining, milling, transport, enrichment,  fuel fabrication, irradiation, cooling,  conditioning, packaging and long term management of disposal are taken into account, the carbon footprint is at least as high as gas, ( and considerably more than virtually every renewable aside from perhaps  large scale hydro dams.
Finally, it is really hard to sustain the assertion that the planned new nuclear programme is  “ready” The projected French  builder/owner of  Hinkley, EDF, is  technically bankrupt with a debt of 33 billion Euros; the planned reactor designer, fellow French firm Areva, is mired in scandal over the substandard workmanship of its steel forger, Le Creusot, for the crucial reactor pressure vessel, as is the alternative supplier Kobe Steel (

Toshiba/Westinghouse, the joint owners NuGen, planned builders of the Moorside reactors near Sellafield, are bankrupt, and trying desperately offload their shareholding, possible to a Korean power generator, Kepco, and a coalition of Korean banks ( reactors chances of being begun recede further into the future  week by week.

Finally, Horizon Nuclear – sponsors of the report this article criticises- are still mid way through  their Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process, and a long way from getting regulatory approval for their advanced  boiling water reactor design; and China General Nuclear (CGN) and EDF  whose purpose built investment  vehicle General Nuclear System Limited (GNS) unveiled Step 2 of the GDA process for its  HPR1000 reactor design, destined for Bradwell in Essex, (, today (on 16 November) is not due for completion until the start of 2022.
The Small Modular Reactors(SMRs) also championed by the authors are even further from deployment, if ever.

In short, none of the new reactor options are “ready to go.”

Last but not least of this selection of errors, the report later on, under the sub headline of Our energy needs are increasing, because of new technology, the report asserts”

New nuclear is not needed simply because we struggle to fulfil our current energy needs, or because our existing capacity is on the decline thanks to demand for cleaner energy and the retirement of existing coal and nuclear power stations. Energy demand tends to ever be on the increase, so the UK will in the future require far more electricity than now6.”

The facts are that energy and electricity demand have been dropping, not increasing,  year on year. Reference 6, on which the  assertion above is purportedly  based, is a report by the energy department (BEIS), Updated energy and emissions projections: 2016 (March 2017), and is, as its title suggests, a projection into the future, not an assessment of  past trends.

But the ResPublica authors have mixed up the two in order to buttress their case for more  nuclear generating capacity Such distortion not only discredits  authors, but if believed, leads to very bad public policy.

If I were running ResPublica I would take down this discredited report from its web site, apologise for this version being posted, and ask Horizon to sponsor a replacement, whereby the authors have free hand to undertake  genuine analytical research, not construct a report  backwards from conclusions established by the client, as they appear to have done in this case.


No comments:

Post a Comment