In the early hours of Thursday morning came the announcement from half way across the world in Tokyo, that the Japanese electrical conglomerate had pulled the plug on its UK subsidiary NuGen ( Nuclear Generation Ltd), the consortium tasked with developing the £15bn Moorside new-build project in West Cumbria. In its press statement, Toshiba’s Board said in devastating bluntness:
“After considering the additional costs entailed in continuing to operate NuGen, Toshiba recognises that the economically rational decision is to withdraw from the UK nuclear power plant construction project, and has resolved to take steps to wind-up NuGen”.
The statement added that Toshiba said it expected to “take a hit” of £100.5m (18.8bn Japanese yen) from the withdrawal from the disastrous industrial contract. (Toshiba Press Release 8th Nov 2018.
The hyperbolic and nonsensical response from trades union GMB national officer Justin Bowden was: "The British government has blood on its hands". The usually staid Times business commentary observed “Moorside's nuclear dreams [have been] looking nightmarish ever since the Nugen project's champion, Japan's Toshiba, went into financial meltdown.”
And concluded: “So two key questions spring to mind. What'll replace it? And should it be nuclear? As the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit points out, offshore wind and solar power is already cheaper - as is gas. Throw in smart grids, energy saving and battery technology and the case for overpriced nukes vanishes. Toshiba is proof of the dangers.” (The Times Business, 9 Nov 2018;
Nugen's chief executive, Tom Samson, said the company had been unable to find a buyer for the project because there was too much "policy and legislative risk" as the government reviews the financial support on offer for nuclear plants. The same paper recalled that when the UK Government gave the green light to the Hinkley Point C plant just two years ago, the business secretary, Dr Greg Clark, hailed the decision as the start of "a new era of UK nuclear power...the first of a wave of new nuclear plants", with 5 more proposed around the country.” It concluded: “Despite the financial hit (an estimated £100 million), the company's share price has leapt. The lesson is that market confidence in Britain's nuclear industry is far from high….Once, it [Moorside] was supposed to be powering six million homes by 2023. Today it is unclear if it will ever power even one (The Times, 9 Nov 2018; https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/f36ba6da-e39c-11e8-9838-efa7e96cbe2b; https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/4a626bd4-e3a4-11e8-9ca5-2dc8c6b25903; https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/c821a6a0-e397-11e8-9838-efa7e96cbe2b)
“This is a huge disappointment and a crushing blow to hopes of a revival of the UK nuclear energy industry,” Tim Yeo, the chair of pro-nuclear lobby group New Nuclear Watch Institute and a former Tory MP told the Guardian. Greenpeace UK’s executive director, John Sauven, wryly said: “The end of the Moorside plan represents a failure of the government’s nuclear gamble.” But form every cloud comes a silver lining, and the collapse of the scheme should be seen as an opportunity rather than a risk, for the UK to prioritise renewables instead. Jonathan Marshall, an analyst at the ECIU think tank, said: “Shifting away from expensive, complicated technology towards cheaper and easier to build renewables gives the UK the opportunity to build an electricity system that will keep bills for homes and businesses down for years to come.” The Guardian, 8 Nov. 2018; www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/08/toshiba-uk-nuclear-power-plant-project-nu-gen-cumbria; www.theguardian.com/business/2018/nov/08/toshibas-failure-shows-business-cant-deliver-a-nuclear-future; CORE 8th Nov 2018
Four years ago, American reactor safety expert Arnie Gundersen a former US nuclear regulator turned whistle blower who accepted an invitation from local Cumbrian campaigning group, Radiation Free Lakeland, to speak about the Moorside plan way back in 2014. Gunderson - and another equally qualified nuclear expert, independent expert, Dr Ian Fairlie, were considered too controversial by local grandees and banned from speaking at a local hall in Keswick, forcing the venue to be switched to the Skiddaw Hotel. Once again independent expertise has trumped blinkered nuclear industry and Government advisors: and now even nuclear indulgent Toshiba agree with these more insightful and smarter experts! (Radiation Free Lakeland 8th Nov 2018
Over the past few years I have attended several meetings with energy ministers and officials of the business and energy department (BEIS) and its predecessors DECC, BIS, etc, during which myself and other attendees from environmental organisations have argued nuclear power is both ecologically and economically unsustainable.
Our analysis and arguments were consistently rejected.
Now the hard headed board of Japanese nuclear investor, Toshiba, has taken an important decision that agreed with our economic evaluation.
The last thing we now want to happen is to do as the GMB and Prospect trades unions want, to artificially subsidise new nuclear reactors, and electricity bill payers and the taxpayer are forced to step in where experienced nuclear plant builders and operators have understandability feared to tread.
The atomic dinosaur should be put to rest.