Thursday, 10 September 2015

Nuclear scrutiny requires documentary disclosure

Letter sent to the Financial Times:
Your leader “UK should think again about Hinkley Point nuclear power station” (September 10, 2015) makes a convincing case for ministers to ”take a fresh look at the underlying assumptions for the [planned HPC nuclear power plant] project in the light of changing circumstances, then publish and defend them.”(

I agree this would be the prudent way forward for energy secretary Amber Rudd and chancellor George Osborne, who defended the economics of Hinkley C before a Lords select committee earlier in the week.

Last December, I made a freedom of Information request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) asking for five documents DECC had submitted to the European Commission which backed the Government argument that led to the Commission reversing its initial decision (of December 2013) that proposed state aid for the HPC plant was illegal, and thus giving the green light for considerable subsidies.

This application was rejected, and also on appeal. I referred this rejection to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which,  after several months consideration, informed me on 17 August it had decided in support of the government refusal to disclose the documents which include several financial appraisals by independent consultants.

As an energy policy consultant for over thirty years, I felt it important to discover just how a complete reversal of the economic evaluation of HPC could take place inside the closed doors of the Commission based on these five documents.

The ICO response to me revealed DECC had submitted not five but 126 documents to the Commission. Importantly, the ICO cited the letter DECC sent to them justifying non-disclosure, which included the following (in paragraph 55): “We would need to ask EdF (Électricité de France) to consider the information that is covered by DECC’s non-disclosure agreement with them in greater detail than they have already, as it is their commercial interests that would be effected by disclosure.”

I do not think the economic interests of a foreign energy services company in EDF should be put before the clear public interest in having the full economic appraisal open to independent, professional and political scrutiny in Parliament, especially by the Public Accounts Committee and Environmental Audit Committee.

I thus agree with your judgement that “if the economics does not make sense, it should consider scrapping the deal and retendering it, this time on a properly competitive basis and with more stringent criteria.”

For that to happen, we need to see the primary documentation.

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