And the UK government is happy to add the icing
By Linda Pentz Gunter
So let’s see. Construction costs for uneconomically and globally fading nuclear power plants continue to soar. The timeframes for building them stretch out endlessly like an Alice in Wonderland hallucinogen. The public don’t want them. The grid doesn’t need them.
But there is a nuclear power plant that Japanese corporation, Hitachi, wants to build on a spectacular piece of Welsh coastline. It’s likely to cost at least $28 billion and climbing. And it’s still going ahead.
Just another day in the insane world of blind nuclear evangelism, in which there is nothing in it for anyone except possibly the continued ability to claim nuclear pre-eminence somewhere in the world.
Hitachi’s nuclear project is Wylfa B, consisting of two Hitachi-designed so-called Advanced Boiling Water Reactors to be constructed by its subsidiary, Horizon Nuclear Power Ltd. Japan’s government sees this project as the “touchstone for exports of nuclear power technology.” The UK government sees it as a face-saving imperative, even though it makes zero sense from either an energy or an economic perspective. And it’s so desperate to keep nuclear power alive, it’s willing to hand over an outrageously generous bag of goodies to sweeten the deal and hold Hitachi’s interest.
The Theresa May UK government is planning to offer an almost $18 billion handout to make Wylfa B happen, along with an electricity strike price — the guaranteed level at which the plant sells electricity — that could be only $20 less than the ratepayer-gouging $123 MWh rate offered to EDF for the new Hinkley-C reactors on the Somerset, UK coast. That rate is more than double what the British currently pay to turn on their lights.
What’s more, Hitachi investors are reportedly angling for an even sweeter sugar-coating and may demand that the British government agrees to absolve the company from any financial responsibility should there be an accident at one of the reactors.
Could this deal be any better? And what could possibly go wrong?
Fortunately, still plenty.
For one, the Development Bank of Japan has balked at the request from the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to contribute $688 million to the deal. That refusal has made Hitachi nervous even though the company board agreed on May 28 to continue to move forward with the Wylfa project.
The UK government sent its latest in a series of love letters to Hitachi’s board on the eve of the company’s May 28 decision to keep the green light on, if flickering. The current agreement would mean that Hitachi, the UK government, and state-backed Japanese entities would split the $28 billion (three trillion yen) cost equally between the three partners. But the risks are high, given the long delays and huge cost over-runs at other new nuclear power plant projects around the world.
Greenpeace UK reported that the UK government’s offer to double the level of its previous guarantee on the loans required to fund construction, as well as a possible equity stake from a UK public private consortium, would see the taxpayer liable for the cost of any delay or technical difficulties that the company encountered, which could run into billions of pounds.
While all this was going on, three represenatives from People Against Wylfa B (PAWB), Robat Idris, Linda Rogers and Meilyr Tomos, were on a speaking tour in Japan at the invitation of Friends of the Earth Japan, where they have been kept busy. Among other activities, they presented a 6,000 strong petition against Wylfa B from signatories in 37 countries, to METI officials in Tokyo. They also met with Naoto Kan and his colleagues, held press conferences and meetings with reporters, demonstrated outside Hitachi headquarters, toured the Fukushima zone and spoke at public meetings. As Tomos wrote on the Stop Wylfa — No Nuclear in Wales Facebook page: “Pretty heavy experience — formal presentation of joint petition from FoE Japan and PAWB to Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry — far more press than expected by FoE.”
Hitachi and the Japanese and UK governments can expect continued resistance to Wylfa B. Building the plant will destroy landscapes, wildlife and roads while its operation will lead to more radiation-related illnesses and risks that could impact tourism, an essential Welsh industry. The people of Anglesey and beyond, and the UK ratepayers, have everything to lose from this deal. So does the UK government. They are just too stubborn to admit it.