Civil Nuclear Road Map

Part of Backbench Business – in the House of Commons am 2:45 pm ar 22 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 2:45, 22 Chwefror 2024

I quoted the chief executive of EDF, who says he hopes to find a pathway with the British authorities, which suggests that EDF wants to be talking about getting more money. The reality is that if there is a £30 billion overspend, EDF must recover that money somewhere, if it can afford to deliver the project without getting a bailout and in line with the 35-year contract it has for selling electricity. If the company has been able to swallow that level of overspend, it shows that the site rate originally agreed in the £18 billion estimate for construction was way too high, because the original £18 billion was supposed to cover contingency as well. Something does not stack up, given that there is such an overspend and such a delay. The delay means that it will be even longer before EDF starts getting payment for the project, so something is not quite right and we need to get a better understanding of that.

I disagree that Sizewell C is still in line with its 2015 prices. At the end of the day, although some lessons can be learned and replicated, the site for Sizewell C is smaller, more constrained and geologically different. It is surrounded by marshes and adjacent to an internationally renowned nature reserve. It is also in one of the fastest-eroding coastlines in Europe, which is subject to rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. In other words, I would argue that Sizewell C is a daft location for a new nuclear power station. With the groundwork and initial civil engineering that will be required, it is not a straightforward carbon copy of Hinkley. We need to know the official estimate for Sizewell C. Taxpayers deserve some transparency, especially given that the Government have already allocated £2.5 billion of taxpayers’ money to EDF for the development of the project, just to get to the stage of a final investment decision. Enough money has already been ploughed into Sizewell C, yet there is still a lot of uncertainty.

On the wider programme delivery considerations for these large-scale nuclear sites, Hinkley will have taken 15 years to complete, if it is completed, by 2031. Even if we are optimistic about Sizewell C, which will be delivered much more quickly, it is still going to take at least 10 years, so it could be between 2035 and 2040 before it is delivered. These timescales alone show the folly of relying on nuclear for decarbonisation and of planning for nuclear to deliver 25% of generation output capacity by 2050, as set out in the road map. It also shows the folly of the road map stating a delivery target of 3 GW to 7 GW every five years. It is a fantasy target, as is 24 GW overall, unfortunately.

The concept of 24 GW, or 25% of generation output, is the wrong model, given that nuclear power is so inflexible. Such a large nuclear output on the grid means that, at times, even greater constraint payments will be paid for renewable energy companies to turn off their turbines.

Large-scale nuclear cannot deliver the intended five-year targets, so how will those targets be met? As Damian Collins outlined, the road map talks about small modular reactors. The name sounds innocuous, but do people really believe that a footprint the size of two football pitches is small? It clearly is not, and there is not yet a single licensed prototype in the UK. Good luck in the competition for SMRs, considering that none has been licensed and approved for construction in the UK.

Of the designs that the Office for Nuclear Regulation is considering, the only one to have reached stage 2 is the Rolls-Royce proposal, with the ONR’s stage 2 assessments due to conclude in July 2024. Stage 3 timescales are still to be confirmed, so the reality is that SMRs are just a glint in the UK’s eye at the moment. There is no understanding or certainty on timescales, even if SMRs do come to fruition.

NuScale is supposedly the world leader in SMR technology, and it has just given up on its proposed SMR in Utah because costs have ballooned to £7 billion. The cost of electricity generation has rocketed, too. Our road map tells us that the UK will pioneer and lead the way on new nuclear and SMRs, but that does not make sense. The Government estimate that SMRs will cost £2 billion a go, which makes no sense given the cost of the project in Utah. The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne, is in his place, and I welcome the questions he has put to the Government. The Government need to consider this closely, and I look forward to their response.

Why does the road map outline two possible funding models—contracts for difference and a regulated asset base? At a £92.50 per megawatt-hour strike rate over 35 years, Hinkley Point is way more expensive than renewable energy at circa £40 to £50 per megawatt-hour over just a 15-year concession period. When we debated the legislation on the regulated asset base funding model, the Government told us that the CFD model does not work for nuclear as it is too expensive, and that switching to RAB would save £40 billion to £80 billion over the lifetime of a nuclear project. If that is the case, why are two funding models listed in the road map? Are the Government now concerned that RAB transfers too much risk to the bill payer? Are they concerned about repeating what happened in South Carolina where, under a regulated asset base model, a company abandoned the construction of a nuclear power station and ratepayers were left paying for a power station that was never completed? What is to stop that happening at Sizewell?

The road map outlines the need for a geological disposal facility, but there are no plans in place to show how such a facility will be identified, constructed and paid for. What is the estimated cost of a GDF? How big will it need to be? Will it be one facility or will there be more, depending on how many nuclear power stations are built? Worryingly, the road map talks about having interim storage in the meantime. This shows that there is still no solution in place for disposing of radioactive nuclear waste, other than burying it for hundreds of years. Our current decommissioning legacy is estimated to be £124 billion, so why do we want to create another generation of nuclear waste for future generations to pay for? There is always a risk that a future Government will need to pick up the tab for decommissioning, no matter what companies sign up to at the outset.

Finally, we are told that nuclear is required because of its reliability and because it produces power when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. Over the last 12 years, however, each nuclear reactor has been offline for roughly a quarter of the year, so the dependability of nuclear is not a given. Indeed, Heysham and Hartlepool power stations are offline and have been since December, so two out of three in the existing fleet in England are offline. Before Hinkley comes online, seven of the original eight nuclear stations operating just a few years ago will have gone offline. If we can operate with such a depletion of the existing nuclear fleet before Hinkley comes online, that undermines the argument that we need nuclear to supply the baseload. The Government clearly do not think that the lights will go out when the rest of these nuclear stations are being decommissioned before Hinkley comes online. To me, the road map seems to be all false aspiration and not enough substance, and it flies in the face of the reality of what we know about the operation of nuclear in the past few years and how the market really sits at the moment.