Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Nuclear Fault Lines

Nuclear Fault Lines

By Dr David Lowry and Paul Flynn MP

23 April 2013, London


We want to make three points:

one on the current critical situation with nuclear waste;

another on responses to the Weightman report on nuclear safety since Fukushima;

and a third on nuclear subsidies

Nuclear Waste


The decision by Cumbria County Council on 30 January to vote against proceeding with stage four investigations for a subterranean repository under DECC’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely programme has created a major ‘fault line’ in the programme to manage  both  so-called “legacy” nuclear waste, and waste arising from any nuclear new  build programme.

Despite this, the then energy minister, John Hayes told Paul in a written Parliamentary answer on 6 February:

“we remain committed to geological disposal as the best approach for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste.”

Mr Hayes later said in another written answer on 19 March:

“we remain confident that the programme is sound and will be put into effect. ..We are now considering whether any changes should be made to our current approach to the site selection process. No changes will be introduced without further consultation. Until such time as a geological disposal facility is implemented, safe and secure interim storage facilities will remain available, for as long as necessary.”

Councillor Alan Smith, leader of Allerdale Council, which had voted in favour of further exploration in Cumbria, admitted in the middle of last month  that the current process to search for an underground nuclear waste storage site in West Cumbria is:

“dead in the water”.

(“Search for an underground radioactive store is over, says council leader,” Whitehaven News, 15 February 2013http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk/search-for-an-underground-radioactive-store-is-over-says-council-leader-1.1035511?referrerPath=home/2.2837)

Despite this DECC’s minister responsible for nuclear waste, Baroness Verma, clearly cannot  take  no for an answer.

In  response to a letter from Councillors who ruled Cumbria out of the running to host a nuclear repository, she patronisingly  asserted they  had

“misunderstood the process”

She added:

“In responding, I also feel it is necessary to note there were a range of errors in your letter and to draw attention to some key points, which I believe betray a misunderstanding of the process and the Government’s position.”

One reader called Stu commented on the newspaper’s web site:

“Any misunderstanding that has occurred has been on the part of Baroness Verma, her department, our MP and Copeland B C who thought it was a done deal. They neglected to appreciate that there was a silent majority who came out of the woodwork when they started to see the smoke and mirror approach to a so called democratic process.
'O what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive'”

(“Councillors misunderstood nuclear dump vote – minister,” Whitehaven News, 13 March 2013 http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk/cumbria-councillors-misunderstood-nuclear-dump-vote-says-minister-1.1042022?referrerPath=home)

And in a letter to the Whitehaven News on 7 February, Dr Ruth Balogh, the Nuclear issues campaigner for West Cumbria & North Lakes Friends of the Earth, commented:


“We congratulate Cumbria County Council on its brave decision to withdraw from the MRWS process. The closing stages of this process, however, were marred by the behaviour of those who saw they might lose the vote – and some of our representatives are even trying to overturn it.

I wish to put straight the record over accusations of “scare-mongering” on our part, and an “anti-nuclear bandwagon”. The MRWS was dealing with highly complex and technical issues. There are more than 300 documents on its website – small wonder that people were not well-informed. But those who took the trouble to examine the issues seldom came away with any comfort – mostly the reverse. “

So the situation is DECC has no “Plan B, but is in denial. They cannot say they weren’t warned.

Just after the Coalition Government was formed, they asked the Office for Government Commerce to review the nuclear waste programme. The OGC report said in August 2010:


Indeed, in December 2011, at the request of ministers, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority published a  review of the programme for implementing geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste

“with a view to bringing the date for first waste emplacement forward from the planned 2040 date to 2029.” (http://www.nda.gov.uk/news/geological-disposal-timescales.cfm)

So the ministers, far from accepting the Plan A was not implementable, actually wanted to speed it up!!

The current bill for dealing with the  radioactive waste stockpile - our legacy from past mistakes, including running the Magnox nuclear reactors flat out during the miners’ strike in 1983, as Mrs Thatcher did, creating an additional nuclear waste nightmare for Sellafield, which  is coming back to haunt  today’s  management -   is now put at over an eye watering £70 billion…. and rising fast.

Copeland’s Labour MP Jamie Reed has warned:

 “It’s an issue of national urgency. The longer we leave this material without a proper long-term solution the more expensive it’s going to be.”

(“Sellafield nuclear plant set to become Europe’s biggest building site,” Whitehaven News, 6 February 2013; http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk/sellafield-nuclear-plant-set-to-become-europe-s-biggest-building-site-1.1033089?referrerPath=home/2.2837)

The body responsible for overseeing the UK’s chaotic nuclear waste policy is the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, or Corwm, whose new chairman Professor Lawrence Williams, is sitting alongside me.

One of the first things Professor Williams did when he took over chairing Corwm was to review its terms of reference, in consultation with its sponsors (DECC and the devolved Administrations), according to a written answer I received on 7 March from DECC. The minister answering, Mr Hayes, added:

“This review, now nearing completion, considered whether plenary meetings open to the public should remain a feature of the Committee's stakeholder engagement activities. CoRWM concluded and sponsors agreed that given the very low attendance by members of the public in recent years, such meetings no longer offered value for money.”

Although he added that CoRWM

“ remains committed to working in an open, transparent and consultative way”

I would invite Professor Williams today to justify this return to the bad old days of secrecy surrounding nuclear decisions, and to tell us  just how much  money the secrecy decision will  actually save.

 (Hansard, 7 Mar 2013 : Column 1123W)


Weightman Report recommendations


In a letter to David last week from Labour’s party’s shadow energy secretary, Caroline Flint, to an enquirer on Labour’s nuclear policy, she wrote:

the Weightman report, which investigated the implications of Fukushima for nuclear safety in the UK, concluded that there were no grounds to restrict UK nuclear reactors or stop building new ones.”

Tthat is an inaccurate summary.

Dr Weightman’s final 288 page report- released in September 2011- had many conclusions and recommendations for action by the nuclear operators (29) and Government.(7)

On its publication, EDF‘s UK chief executive, Vincent De Rivaz, said:

“We will review his findings in detail and build them into our plans.  We have already committed to implementing his recommendations for us in full.

DECC said in its December 2011 response to Weightman, that its Nuclear Emergency Planning Liaison Group (NEPLG) had, amongst other things:

“Considered in some detail the response required for faults considered to be reasonably foreseeable and additionally the response required for ‘beyond design basis’ accidents and recommended that industry consider the planning assumptions for these. It also recommended that ONR should enforce a stronger testing regime which includes extendibility arrangements and overseas nuclear accident response…”


ONR said in a reply to a Freedom Of Information Request on 17 April 2013 asking for copies of reports  prepared of commissioned by the ONR on destructive testing  of vulnerable parts of nuclear facilities, that :

“It is the licensees who are expected to commission such work to support their safety justifications for reactors.”  And added that the ONR itself

“does not  keep such  records.”

That may be honest, but  it is equally disturbing. Why is our nuclear safety regulator relying on the industry to police its own safety?

The American nuclear regulators take a much more pro-active role.

The Patriot News in the US recently reported that the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania – the  location of America’s biggest nuclear accident in 1979 -  will be the first in the U.S. to be tested on its emergency response procedures in the event of a terrorist attack. The drill will take place in the context of a simulated attack, perhaps a strike from the air, like an airplane deliberately crashing into the facility, thought the nature of the fictional scenario is being kept secret.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been requiring nuclear plant operators to prepare for such scenarios since 2011, Power Engineering reported.

(“Three Mile Island to be first nuclear plant tested on terrorist attack response,” Power Engineering, Apr 16, 2013, http://www.power-eng.com/articles/2013/04/three-mile-island-to-be-first-nuclear-plant-tested-on-terrorist-.html)


Meanwhile, the US Government  has announced plans to fund to operate a pair of nuclear emergency response centres, able to rapidly transport vital safety equipment anywhere in the country.  

The Chemical Engineer in mid- April  said:

 “The idea behind the centres was developed in the wake of 2011’s Fukushima disaster, where damage caused by the initial earthquake was made worse when emergency backup generators and other equipment failed in the face of a devastating tsunami. Even once the problem had been recognised, the sheer scale of the disaster meant that it took considerable time for replacements to reach the site”.

(“US plans nuclear emergency response centres,” The Chemical Engineer, 16 April 2013, http://www.tcetoday.com/latest%20news/2013/april/us-plans-nuclear-emergency-response-centres.aspx#.UW2OjnBwaM8

Why don’t we  implement something similar  here?

And the latest news from Japan? 

A UN nuclear watchdog team last week began inspecting Fukushima’s crippled nuclear plant, which has been plagued with radioactive water leaks and other glitches for more than two years since  it was struck by the  tsunami. (“IAEA inspects Japan's crippled nuclear plant,”(AP April 17, 2013, www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10750978}



The current Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, Ed Davey couldn’t have been clearer over his  party’s policy on nuclear power, when writing on his blog on 17 July 2006:

“A new generation of nuclear power stations will cost taxpayers and consumers tens of billions of pounds
. “In addition to posing safety and environmental risks, nuclear power will only be possible with vast taxpayer subsidies or a rigged market.”

In 2006 Ed Davey was in charge of developing energy spokesman for the Lib Dems. Four  years later, when the Lib Dems formed the Coalition government with the Conservatives, the Coalition Agreement  included the following  statements and pledges

Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction.”




 the replacement of existing nuclear power stations [ will be allowed ] provided that they receive no public subsidy.”


The first Coalition energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, now languishing in jail, attempted to clarify what was meant by the  simple word ‘subsidy’ with this Jesuitical casuistry in a statement to Parliament on 18 October 2010, asserting:


“Arguably, few economic activities can be absolutely free of subsidy in some respect, given the wide-ranging scope of state activity and the need to abide by international treaty obligations. Our "no subsidy" policy will therefore need to be applied having regard to proportionality and materiality.”

He added by way of explanation:

“We will not rule out the Government providing support to industry in the normal course of the business of government, for example through the activities of the Office for Nuclear Development in taking forward the actions to facilitate the deployment of new nuclear power in a similar manner to the facilitation of other energy types.” 

And  Lib Dem  Ministers have spent the next two  and a half years adding more and  more subsidies for nuclear, while  verbally wriggling to   attempt to justify they are not subsidies.

This embarrassing political charade  has been  kept up, despite many attempts by MPs, including myself, to  point out the absurdity, hypocrisy and frankly and dishonesty  of the Coalition policy on nuclear subsidies.

There have even been covert subsidies to nuclear operators arising  from implementation of the Weightman report on  lessons to the UK from Fukushima. Paul was told in a written answer in December  2011

“Nuclear safety is a top priority and as such any associated costs to the Department will be borne out of the overall departmental budget.


The Government are not able to comment on any associated costs to the nuclear operating companies, as such costs are part of the overall and ongoing costs of ensuring the safe operation of nuclear facilities.


 (Hansard, 15 December  2011 : Column 878W)



The latest news on direct subsidies is that  the UK's contracts for difference (CfD) scheme could be delayed by EU state aid rules, as the Government has confirmed that it will have the power to change the terms of subsidy agreements without public disclosure.

The UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has revealed to ICIS that it will have the powers to change the terms of subsidy agreements brokered with low carbon energy generators without public disclosure through its electricity market reform bill

Section 3 sub-paragraph 3 of the bill states that information can be kept confidential if

 "the disclosure of which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State at that time, would or would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person."

(“EU approval for UK CfDs could be delayed by lack of transparency,” ICIS, 11 April 2013, www.icis.com/heren/articles/2013/04/11/9658263/eu-approval-for-uk-cfds-could-be-delayed-by-lack-of.html)

This attempt to conceal subsidy details from Parliamentary scrutiny is undemocratic and unacceptable.

And finally, The Sunday Telegraph revealed on 21 April that Amyas Morse, the controller and auditor general of the National Audit Office, has written to MPs suggesting that he may investigate any deal done between the Treasury and EDF.

Mr Morse, who produced a report into the Government’s energy policy last year, said:


“I expect to follow up my earlier memorandum with further reviews to support parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s implementation of its energy policy and in particular I will consider the case for a review of the negotiation of the Hinkley strike price if one is agreed.

If the Government reaches agreement with EDF an audit could review the process and outcome of the negotiations and whether they have secured value for money.”


{“Delayed nuclear deal faces inquiry,“ Sunday Telegraph, 21 April 2013, www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/10007825/Delayed-nuclear-deal-faces-inquiry.html)


Our prediction is he will conclude the deal is a subsidy, contrary to the Coalition Agreement, and rule it out.


This is all the result of ministers dissembling  on nuclear subsidies for many months.

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