Friends of the Earth South West Regional Campaigner Mike Birkin gives Copyright his views on the government’s plans back in November 2015 for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.
It’s not often that a government policy succeeds in uniting the Financial Times, the Guardian, Boris Johnson, HSBC, a former head of the civil service, Jonathon Porritt and Lord Howell, the former Conservative energy minister who is now also George Osborne’s father-in-law. These are just a few of the more conspicuous voices queuing up to denounce the Hinkley Point deal. The government wants this to be the first new nuclear plant in a generation and appears increasingly reckless in its pursuit.
Of course it’s a shockingly bad deal: potentially the most expensive building project in our history, committing bill payers to electricity at twice the current market rate (index-linked) for 35 years, and inviting Chinese state-owned companies to build another nuclear station of their own in Essex as a sweetener. And who am I to disagree with all those informed commentators?
It’s a pity though that not more of them have seen fit to question the dubious moral legacy of Hinkley C. If it ever starts up (and no contract has yet been signed despite all the shouting) it will create waste that we do not know how to store, nor do we know how much it will cost to do so. But what is known is that it is planned to store it on the Somerset coast for 100 years or more while it cools down. Given the serial mismanagement of Britain’s existing nuclear waste sites and their staggering costs – over £70 billion for the Sellafield site in Cumbria – the best legacy must surely be for the Hinkley C project to collapse before any nuclear fuel is ever put in it.
There is a sad contrast too between the government’s slavish devotion to nuclear energy and its increasing hostility towards the energy supplies that most people actually want – renewables. The government has just finished consulting on a plan to cut subsidies for solar by 87 per cent, a move that the industry says puts 30,000 jobs at risk. Defending this, Energy minister Andrea Ledsom claimed, ‘I don’t think anyone here would advocate an industry that only survives because of a subsidy paid by the billpayer.’ The next day it emerged that the government had quietly admitted the abandonment of the previous policy of no public subsidy for nuclear power. Such a policy was only ever a fiction. But it is hard to see any logic in continuing to prop up an energy source that has only got more expensive over 60 years of public support, while moving to strangle solar energy which has seen a rapid and sustained decrease in costs.