Wednesday, 27 June 2018

You cannot fuel nuclear proliferation from a tidal lagoon

Letter submitted to The Guardian:
The question asked in your first leader: “Hinkley Point C got the go-ahead despite its cost. So why not Swansea Bay?” (Guardian, 27 June;

Firstly, you cannot warheads for nuclear weapons of mass destruction form any by-products of a tidal lagoon as you can from Hinkley C’s plutonium. Indeed, when Hinkley A was being developed in the late the Ministry of Defence issued clear statement on: “the production of  plutonium suitable for weapons in the new [nuclear ] power stations programme as an insurance against  future defence needs…” (17 June 1958)

A week later in Parliament, the then responsible minister, Paymaster General Reginald Maudling explained to MPs:

“At the request of the Government, the Central Electricity Generating Board has agreed to a small modification in the design of Hinkley Point and of the next two stations in its programme so as to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted should the need arise.

The Government made this request in order to provide the country, at comparatively small cost, with a most valuable insurance against possible future defence requirements. The cost of providing such insurance by any other means would be extremely heavy.” (Hansard, 24 June 1958 vol 590 cc246-8;

The second reason is the skill set of those building and operating a tidal lagoon generation plant cannot easily be swapped with those involved in developing  reactors for British nuclear submarines; but those working on Hinkley C can do so.

We know from Whitehall discussions of the special ‘nuclear industry sector deal’(NISD), this is exactly what the business and energy department (Beis)  finds so attractive in new nuclear plants, despite their astronomical financial cost. eg the Nuclear Industry Council framework document on the NISD states at paragraph 6.11:

To support this industry-led initiative, Government should bring nuclear developers and owners together, including the NDA and Ministry of Defence.”

Moreover, Stephen Lovegrove, MOD permanent secretary (previously at Beis) explicitly told the public accounts committee last October:

 We are completing the build of the nuclear submarines which carry conventional weaponry. We have at some point to renew the warheads, so there is very definitely an opportunity here for the nation to grasp in terms of building up its nuclear skills. I do not think that that is going to happen by accident; it is going to require concerted Government action to make it happen. We are speaking to colleagues at BEIS fairly repeatedly about it…”


But don’t expect MPs to be provided any details in advance for scrutiny. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was told by energy minister Richard Harrington in a written answer on 25 June:”

“the Government will ensure that appropriate value for money assessments are completed before any final deal on a new nuclear project is signed and will consider releasing future publications at the appropriate time.”

​He added “the Government published a value for money assessment for Hinkley Point C at the time of the deal being signed.” ie after MPS had any chance to question it.

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