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News Article | May 15, 2017
Site: www.theenergycollective.com

Getting the policy commitments from government and money from investors to make them a reality is an entirely different matter. There is no shortage of good ideas for improving the prospects of conventional light water reactors, small modular reactors using similar technologies, and advanced reactors which have multiple technological roadmaps. The problem is that all of them are contending for investor funding, government R&D support, and licensing reform. The cruel fact of the matter is that no reactor vendor is going to get an order for one of their units from a utility unless they can prove the design is safe and can be operated at a profit. Success factors also include having a reliable supply chain that can meet NQA-1 standards, a skilled workforce to build the units, a common sense and cost sensitive regulatory environment, and trained operators to run the reactors once built. One of the reasons the Westinghouse projects in Georgia and South Carolina are in so much trouble is that after 30 years of benign neglect by the Department of Energy, none of these success factors were in place when the projects broke ground. How many undergraduate engineering students are going to switch out of the nuclear field after learning about the financial disaster visited on these projects by mismanagement at Toshiba and Westinghouse? There are multiple reasons for the decades of neglect of the nuclear industry, but two of them are that the green wing of the Democratic party favors solar and wind power due to their “lifestyle” appeal to voters and the Republican party, which has long since been captured by the oil and gas industry, sees nuclear energy as a competitive threat. However, now we are faced with scientific evidence that the earth is warming caused by increased CO2 emissions from fossil energy fuel combustion processes. To “decarbonize” the various energy using sectors of our economy will require a renewed commitment to nuclear energy. It makes no sense to put electric cars on the road if their power comes from coal-fired power plants. The executive branch of the federal government is ill-prepared for this challenge with the Department of Energy headed by former Texas Governor Rick Perry who famously said he wanted to eliminate DOE in a 2011 presidential debate but couldn’t remember its name. Unlike other recent secretaries of energy with PhDs, like Steven Chu, who held a Nobel Prize in physics, and Ernest Moniz, who led MIT nuclear energy programs, Perry has an undergraduate degree in animal husbandry. Perry’s campaign position is consistent with the ‘search & destroy’ profiles of other Trump cabinet appointments like Scott Pruitt at EPA who has made no bones about his plans to tear the agency apart. At Interior Ryan Zinke has made clear he intends to promote coal mining and natural gas drilling in direct contradiction of things like national park boundaries. Finally, many key posts at DOE remain unfilled by Perry. Taken together it is difficult if not impossible to see any hope of clarity regarding nuclear energy from the executive branch. Congress may be a source of support, but without a viable agency to execute programs with their funding in place, it may be the U.S. nuclear energy industry is facing a dark and uncertain future at least where the federal government is concerned. The problem is similarly acute in the UK where a precipitous drive to exit from relationships with the European Union is turning relationships with Euratom on its head. That said people are speaking up. Here are a series of brief summary reports of industry views on what needs to be done to put the nuclear energy industry in the US and the UK in gear to address the challenge of decarbonization of our energy use. US Must Expand Nuclear to Maintain Global Influence A country’s nuclear energy expertise is a significant element of its geopolitical influence and, along with other clean energy technologies, is essential to meeting global clean energy demands and addressing climate challenges, the Global Nexus Initiative (GNI) says in its fourth and final policy memo. The expansion of nuclear development outside the United States and Europe is shifting influence toward nations that have not been known as leaders in nuclear governance, like Russia and China. Traditional nuclear leaders like the United States and its allies must bolster their role as nuclear suppliers in order to continue influencing regulatory and security norms, the report states. Kenneth Luongo, president of the Partnership for Global Security (PGS) discussed U.S. position at a press conference in Washington, D.C. “The control of market share translates into the power to create nuclear governance rules and prevent commercial competition from eroding vital safety, security and nonproliferation standards.” Chart Notes: For the US, the three planned nuclear reactors are far from done deals. They are DTE’s Fermi III, Dominion’s North Anna III, and Duke’s William States Lee plants. All have received NRC licenses. However, given the financial troubles faced by reactors now under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, it could be a long time before any other utility in the U.S. decides to proceed with a full size nuclear reactor regardless of the vendor. India’s commitments are problematic since 12 of the 20 planned units are supposed to be supplied by Areva and Westinghouse, and neither vendor is anywhere near able to break ground. GNI also recommends that the current framework of governance evolve into one that is forward-looking and can handle the particular challenges that the next few decades will present, including effectively involving newcomer nations, guiding emerging suppliers and combating climate change. The think tank said in its statement that traditional nuclear suppliers … have primarily written the current rules. But they are in the process of losing ground on nuclear commerce to Russia and soon China. These are very serious issues for the entire global community. Nuclear operation and supply are special responsibilities. And, radiation does not respect borders. Standards must be strong. “An aggressive and effective response to these new realities—strengthening, unifying, and when necessary, expanding the nuclear governance system—is essential for nuclear power to continue to play a vital role in meeting the increasing global need for carbon-free energy in the 21st Century,” GNI says. Part of this effort will involve not only developing and deploying advanced reactor technology, but also working to preserve the current nuclear plants. “To increase its market share and thereby preserve its ability to shape the global use of nuclear technology, the United States must have both a strong domestic nuclear power program and an aggressive nuclear trade and export program,” NEI President and Chief Executive Officer Maria Korsnick said at the conference. “However, preserving the existing fleet is also fundamental to achieve these goals. Without the existing fleet and the associated infrastructure it will be increasingly difficult for technological innovation to occur, or to maintain a robust supply chain for our nuclear navy.” To achieve these goals, GNI recommends the development of diverse coalitions that include governments, international institutions, the industry, nonproliferation experts, environmental specialists and other stakeholders. As a joint project of the Nuclear Energy Institute and PGS that drew together a diverse range of experts, GNI is a positive example of what these innovative partnerships can do. US Nuclear Industry Calls For Action On ‘Outdated And Costly’ Regulatory Regime (NucNet) The US nuclear industry has called for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “outdated and costly” regulatory regime to be updated. In testimony to the House appropriations committee’s energy and water development subcommittee on May 3, 2017. Nuclear Energy Institute president and chief executive officer Maria Korsnick said the need for Congressional action on regulatory reform has become more urgent as utilities consider using accident tolerant fuel and NRC applications are being submitted for certification of small modular reactor designs, which will be deployed in the mid-2020s. She said developers of advanced non-light-water reactors are beginning to deal with the NRC as they look to deploy their technologies around 2030. She said the industry wanted an urgent review of accident tolerant fuel and advanced reactor programs, and funding for federal research and development efforts that promote new technologies and innovation. Ms Korsnick also called for licensing the proposed Yucca Mountain deep geologic repository and construction of a consolidated interim storage facility. Ms Korsnick’s testimony is online: http://bit.ly/2qHz6PY Engineering Association Calls For UK To Focus On SMR Development (NucNet) The UK should focus on developing small modular reactors (SMRs) to secure the country’s nuclear industry post-Brexit, according to a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME). The report says SMRs could present the UK with export opportunities and return the country to the international nuclear reactor supply arena. The report outlines possible routes the government could take to leaving the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) regarding issues such as safeguards, nuclear cooperation agreements, research and development, and regulation. The IME is calling for the UK to develop its own safeguarding office, to ensure the country conforms to international rules on safety and non-proliferation, but says the UK should remain an associate member of Euratom for the specific purpose of R&D. Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment for the IME and lead author of the report, said in a May 5, 2017 statement that the UK’s departure from the EU and Euratom is likely to be “complicated and difficult”, but it also presents the country with an opportunity to “reshape its nuclear industry and once again become a world-leading innovator in nuclear technology”. EDF Hopes For UK-Style Subsidies For New Nuclear Plants In France (NucNet) French state-owned utility EDF hopes for UK-style subsidies for the construction of new nuclear plants in France and expects that president-elect Emmanuel Macron’s plan to reduce the share of nuclear in the French power mix is a “long-term” plan. EDF chief financial officer Xavier Girre said EDF was hoping to convince the Macron government to introduce state subsidies for new nuclear plants, modelled on the contracts for difference (CfD) scheme under which EDF is planning to build two EPR nuclear units at Hinkley Point in England. EDF has signed a CfD with the British government under which it can sell power at £92.5/MWh for 35 years. The Hinkley Point project will cost £18bn (€21bn, $23bn). If the market price is above that level, EDF refunds the difference, if it is below that level it receives a top-up. According to the World Nuclear Association, France has 58 nuclear reactors operated by Electricite de France (EdF), with a total capacity of 63.2 GWe, supplying 436 TWh of electricity in 2014, 77.5% of the total generated there (IEA data). As a result of the 1974 decision, France now claims a substantial level of energy independence and almost the lowest cost electricity in Europe. It also has an extremely low level of CO2 emissions per capita from electricity generation, since over 90% of its electricity is nuclear or hydro. The problem France faces is that starting in 2021 32 of its 58 operating reactors will begin to hit the 40 year mark. The end of the the 2020s, all of France’s older 900 MW units will be 40 years old. Planning an affordable succession for these units is a major challenge that must be met starting now. Mr Girre said EDF also wanted to talk to the new government about the ARENH (‘Regulated Access to Incumbent Nuclear Electricity’) mechanism under which currently it is forced to sell up to 25% of its nuclear output to competitors as part of measures to improve competition in the retail power market. “We consider that it is necessary and fair to reform the ARENH mechanism to prevent it from being as biased as it is today,” he said.


"We hope the money raised will help The Sick Children’s Trust continue its great work and reach out to more families who needs its support.” The North East regional branch of The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has raised an outstanding £5,050 for The Sick Children’s Trust from its annual Chairman’s dinner held earlier this month. IMechE North East Chairman Chris Briggs chose The Sick Children’s Trust as the chosen charity for the event and hoped to raise £2,500 for the charity which supports families with children undergoing lifesaving treatment. However, following generous donations from attendees, a superb raffle and auction the evening doubled the initial fundraising target, raising over £5,000. The Sick Children’s Trust runs ten ‘Homes from Homes’ across the country supporting families with seriously ill children in hospital. Two of its ‘Homes from Home’ are located in Newcastle upon Tyne at the Royal Victoria Infirmary and Freeman Hospital. The money raised from the North East IMechE dinner will go towards running both ‘Homes from Home’ in the North East. Chris Briggs says: “We’d like to say a huge thank you to our sponsors, British Engines, and all our guests for making the event at Hardwick Hall such a huge success. Because of everyone’s support, we were able to raise more than double our target for The Sick Children’s Trust, a charity that helps so many families going through the most traumatic times. We hope the money raised will help The Sick Children’s Trust continue its great work and reach out to more families who needs its support.” The Sick Children’s Trust supports over 4,000 families with seriously ill children in hospital every year. Caroline O’Doherty, Campaigns and Appeals Manager at The Sick Children’s Trust says: “We’re absolutely delighted with the tremendous amount raised. The guests were so generous with their donations and we simply can’t thank Chris and the rest of the IMechE members enough for choosing The Sick Children’s Trust as the benefiting charity of the dinner. “Thanks to everyone’s generosity, we can be there for the increasing number of families from the North East and beyond who rely on us to keep them together with their sick child.” For more information about The Sick Children’s Trust, please visit: www.sickchildrenstrust.org


News Article | May 6, 2017
Site: www.theguardian.com

The Brexit spotlight swung last week away from the familiar cast of bankers quitting the City and coffee-shop chains worried about recruiting staff to the fate of the energy industry tasked with powering the economy when the UK leaves the EU. The loudest warnings came from MPs, peers, engineers and the industry itself over the impact that blocks to trade or freedom of movement would have on the nuclear and oil sectors. However, the UK’s departure from the union also risks damaging urgent efforts to make the continent’s energy systems greener and more efficient, an adviser to the head of the United Nations has told the Observer. Rachel Kyte, special representative on sustainable energy to UN secretary general António Guterres, said anything that hampered the global switch to lower carbon power would be regrettable. “Brexit is at best a distraction, at worst a disruption of the need to continue to drive energy productivity across the UK and Europe – of having a much less energy-intensive economy and getting more productivity from each unit of energy, of having a cleaner energy system, of having much less use of carbon-intensive fuels,” said Kyte. The former World Bank executive highlighted the increasing amount of renewable energy generation in the UK, which had led to what she branded “breakthroughs”, such as the country’s grid recently going a whole day without coal power. As Europe gets an increasing amount of power from wind, solar and hydro, Kyte said it was vital that Brexit did not harm the growing number of interconnector cables being built. “We are seeing the beginnings of a highly interconnected European market and there are benefits to the UK of being part of that, so one hopes that interconnectedness will not be affected,” she said. From the power that keeps Britain’s homes lit to the crude that keeps its cars running, here is how Brexit could affect the energy sector: At least eight cables are being laid under the sea or through the Channel Tunnel to trade power between the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Denmark and Norway, tripling the existing number of UK interconnectors. Billions of pounds are committed to the projects under way, and ones even further afield have been mooted, such as a cable to bring Iceland’s volcanic power to the UK. The government hopes these interconnectors will continue to operate post-Brexit, and wants more beyond those planned already. “The ambitions are to go higher,” business secretary Greg Clark recently told MPs, citing a UK-France connector approved in February as a sign that leaving the EU was not affecting investor confidence. A UK that is more reliant on the variable nature of wind and solar power would make such interconnectivity with other countries even more important, he said. Key to the future prospects for interconnectors will be whether the UK continues as a member of the EU internal energy market, in a similar fashion to Norway. Alternatives include tracking the EU regime without any formal arrangement, or striking a series of bilateral arrangements similar to those Switzerland has made with the bloc. Being outside the EU market would be worse, according to experts. Silke Goldberg, a lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills, said: “While the UK government is supportive of interconnectors, there are some concerns among investors that the economic case for new interconnectors in the Channel may be affected if the UK is not part of the internal energy market and electricity imports are subject to trade tariffs.” Those building the cables, which are made from vast amounts of copper, appear undeterred. “As long as there is a need on both sides to do trade, there is not really a worst case I can see, as the interest is on both sides,” said Auke Lont, head of the Norwegian state grid operator Statnett, which is building the world’s longest undersea cable between the Norway and the UK. The North Sea Link interconnector is expected to mostly be used for exporting hydro power from Norway to the UK when complete in 2020, after Brexit, but will also export surplus wind power from Britain in the other direction. “The moral of the story is there is enough economic interest on both sides that it will easily withstand the fact that the UK now leaves the EU,” Lont said. The nuclear industry potentially stands to lose the most from leaving the EU. Buried in the small print of Theresa May’s Brexit bill in January was the news that Britain would quit a vital atomic power treaty: Euratom, which underpins the transport of nuclear fuel and other materials across Europe. Last week saw a flurry of warnings from the industry, MPs and peers over the consequences of that decision. The nuclear trade body raised the prospect of disruption across the industry if alternatives are not in place within two years, urging ministers to avoid a “cliff edge”. Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said the difficulty was not the technicalities of putting in place new cooperation agreements with nuclear states or new inspection regimes for nuclear material, but the time window imposed by the article 50 process. “It’s an extremely pressing timeframe,” he told the Observer. “We’ve already lost three months by the time the general election is factored in.” Britain quitting the treaty has also raised doubts over the future of its involvement in research and development on nuclear fusion, a cleaner form of atomic power. The Joint European Torus (JET), a fusion research project at Culham in Oxfordshire, receives £50m a year from Euratom. But the current contract runs out in 2018, halfway through Brexit talks. One way for the UK’s nuclear industry to get back on the front foot after leaving would be to focus on a new generation of mini-reactors, according to a leading engineering body. “Pushing ahead on the demonstration and commercialisation of small modular reactors would be a key way for the UK to once again become a world leader in the field,” said Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. But delays to a government competition to develop such reactors do not bode well. The government has given no hints on whether it will retain membership of the EU’s flagship climate change regime, the Emissions Trading System. The carbon market currently costs industries such as oil, cement, and steel just under €5 per tonne of carbon they emit. The oil and gas industry are among the sectors seeking clarity on whether the UK will stay or go. Some experts think the market’s links to EU institutions may mean an exit is inevitable. “The government has not announced plans to leave the ETS, although disputes are handled by the European court of justice, which may be a red line,” said the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit thinktank. When Nick Hurd, the climate minister, was recently asked if the UK had an alternative lined up to the ETS, he said: “We’re analysing it, as you’d expect us to do.” An obvious time to leave would be before the current phase of the scheme ends in 2019. On green energy, Clark maintains no decision has been taken on whether the UK will stick to the EU’s renewable energy directive after leaving the union. But government sources have said that after Brexit the UK will probably scrap the EU target to get 15% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. That would seem likely if the Tories win the general election. The UK has lobbied Europe in recent years in favour of carbon-cutting targets and against ones for renewables, to leave ministers free to pursue their preference to largely use new nuclear to meet climate goals, rather than wind or solar. The big post-EU concern for the UK’s ailing oil and gas industry is the prospect of new tariffs being imposed. Industry body Oil & Gas UK warned last week that a hard Brexit, falling back on World Trade Organisation rules, would see trading costs almost double from £600m a year to £1.1bn because of changing tariff rates. At best, trading costs might go down £100m if the UK can strike more favourable deals outside the UK. In a letter to Theresa May, the industry also stressed the international nature of its workforce, and called on the government to prioritise “frictionless access to markets and labour” during Brexit talks.


News Article | May 5, 2017
Site: www.theengineer.co.uk

A report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers claims that the commercialisation of SMR’s could resurrect the UK’s civil nuclear programme The UK should focus on developing Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) to secure the country’s future nuclear industry post-Brexit according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The ‘Leaving the EU, the Euratom Treaty Part 2: A Framework for the Future’ report – which outlines a number of possible pathways the UK government could take to leaving the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) – argues that SMRs could present the UK with key export opportunities and return the country to the international nuclear reactor supply arena. The Institution is also calling for the UK to develop its own Safeguarding Office, to ensure the country conforms to international rules on safety and non-proliferation, but says the UK should remain an associate member of Euratom for the specific purpose of R&D. Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment and lead author of the report, said: “The UK’s departure from the EU and Euratom is likely to be complicated and difficult, but it also presents the country with an opportunity to reshape its nuclear industry and once again become a world-leading innovator in nuclear technology. Political parties need to outline their vision for the future of the UK nuclear industry as part of their manifestos. “In the 1950s the UK was the first country to develop a civil nuclear programme, but we have since fallen behind countries such as China, France and Canada. Pushing ahead on the demonstration and commercialisation of SMRs would be a key way for the UK to once again become a world leader in the field. This would not only help to meet future energy demand, but also to develop skills, local employment and build future export business”


The North East regional branch of IMechE will hold their annual Chairman's Dinner on 12 May to raise money for The Sick Children's Trust The North East regional branch of an international engineering society has chosen The Sick Children’s Trust to benefit from its prestigious annual dinner next month. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), which represents over 115,000 members worldwide, has chosen The Sick Children’s Trust to benefit from its regional annual charity dinner on Friday 12 May at Hardwick Hall Hotel in Sedgefield. The organisers of the event, which celebrates the achievements of its members in the North East, are hoping it will raise over £2,500 for the charity which supports families with seriously ill children in hospital with ‘Home from Home’ accommodation. The Sick Children’s Trust runs two ‘Homes from Home’ in Newcastle upon Tyne, supporting thousands of families from across the North East when their child is undergoing lifesaving treatment at both the Freeman Hospital and Royal Victoria Infirmary. IMechE North East Chairman Chris Briggs, says: “We are thrilled to be supporting The Sick Children’s Trust. We always choose a charity active in the region and The Sick Children’s Trust helps so many families who have children in hospital in Newcastle. We hope by choosing them as our benefitting charity, our guests will dig deep to help the charity help even more families with seriously ill children in hospital.” The dinner is the keynote event in the IMechE’s Regional calendar, and is sponsored once again by British Engines Ltd. Guests who attend can expect a fantastic evening, with guest speaker Kevin Connelly, the celebrated impressionist from TV's 'Dead Ringers' and a four-course dinner with wine. The evening promises to be a great opportunity to network with peers from across the engineering community. The Sick Children’s Trust runs ten ‘Homes from Home’ across the country supporting, over 4,000 families with seriously ill children in hospital every year. Although ‘Home from Home’ accommodation is provided free to families, it costs the charity £30 to support a family for one night. Caroline O’Doherty, Campaigns and Appeals Manager at The Sick Children’s Trust says: “We were delighted when Chris told us that we were IMechE’s chosen charity for the annual dinner. The money raised from the event will go a long way towards providing families in the region with a ‘Home from Home’ when their child is undergoing lifesaving treatment in hospital. We’d like to say a huge thank you to IMechE for choosing to support us; thanks to your generosity, we can be there for the increasing number of families who rely on us to keep them together with their sick child..” Ticket sales for the dinner are now closed but it’s still possible to make a donation to the charity at http://www.sickchildrenstrust.org/Donate/index.html For more information: Please contact Alexandra Glatman on 0207 337 2213 or email [email protected]


Grant
Agency: GTR | Branch: EPSRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 4.73M | Year: 2011

National infrastructure (NI) systems (energy, transport, water, waste and ICT) in the UK and in advanced economies globally face serious challenges. The 2009 Council for Science and Technology (CST) report on NI in the UK identified significant vulnerabilities, capacity limitations and a number of NI components nearing the end of their useful life. It also highlighted serious fragmentation in the arrangements for infrastructure provision in the UK. There is an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions from infrastructure, to respond to future demographic, social and lifestyle changes and to build resilience to intensifying impacts of climate change. If this process of transforming NI is to take place efficiently, whilst also minimising the associated risks, it will need to be underpinned by a long-term, cross-sectoral approach to understanding NI performance under a range of possible futures. The systems of systems analysis that must form the basis for such a strategic approach does not yet exist - this inter-disciplinary research programme will provide it.The aim of the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium is to develop and demonstrate a new generation of system simulation models and tools to inform analysis, planning and design of NI. The research will deal with energy, transport, water, waste and ICT systems at a national scale, developing new methods for analysing their performance, risks and interdependencies. It will provide a virtual environment in which we will test strategies for long term investment in NI and understand how alternative strategies perform with respect to policy constraints such as reliability and security of supply, cost, carbon emissions, and adaptability to demographic and climate change.The research programme is structured around four major challenges:1. How can infrastructure capacity and demand be balanced in an uncertain future? We will develop methods for modelling capacity, demand and interdependence in NI systems in a compatible way under a wide range of technological, socio-economic and climate futures. We will thereby provide the tools needed to identify robust strategies for sustainably balancing capacity and demand.2. What are the risks of infrastructure failure and how can we adapt NI to make it more resilient?We will analyse the risks of interdependent infrastructure failure by establishing network models of NI and analysing the consequences of failure for people and the economy. Information on key vulnerabilities and risks will be used to identify ways of adapting infrastructure systems to reduce risks in future.3. How do infrastructure systems evolve and interact with society and the economy? Starting with idealised simulations and working up to the national scale, we will develop new models of how infrastructure, society and the economy evolve in the long term. We will use the simulation models to demonstrate alternative long term futures for infrastructure provision and how they might be reached.4. What should the UKs strategy be for integrated provision of NI in the long term? Working with a remarkable group of project partners in government and industry, we will use our new methods to develop and test alternative strategies for Britains NI, building an evidence-based case for a transition to sustainability. We will analyse the governance arrangements necessary to ensure that this transition is realisable in practice.A Programme Grant provides the opportunity to work flexibly with key partners in government and industry to address research challenges of national importance in a sustained way over five years. Our ambition is that through development of a new generation of tools, in concert with our government and industry partners, we will enable a revolution in the strategic analysis of NI provision in the UK, whilst at the same time becoming an international landmark programme recognised for novelty, research excellence and impact.


News Article | December 16, 2016
Site: cleantechnica.com

Originally published on EnergyPost by Peter Strachan and Alex Russell On Tuesday the US Environmental Protection Agency released a definitive study concluding that hydraulic fracturing can impact drinking water at each stage in the shale gas production process. Do we really want to see 16,000 or more shale gas wells drilled in the British countryside carrying the same and other risks, ask professors Peter Strachan and Alex Russell?  They assess the case for fracking in the UK against six “stress tests” and conclude that it fails in each case. “Let’s Fraxit now!” Plans for onshore shale gas extraction – or rather high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) or fracking – are proving to be somewhat explosive in the UK. Politically there is a north south divide on the wisdom of engaging with fracking, with the Conservative controlled south hell bent on pushing it at all costs and the Scottish National Party (SNP) north dancing a ‘dinna ken’ highland jig around the issue, much to the chagrin of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Following the publication of six reports on 8 November the Scottish Government has now announced that it will launch a consultation in January 2017, with a final decision likely to be reached in the second half of 2017. At a recent Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Oil and Gas meeting (see this article for a report), six “stress tests” were discussed on which a decision should logically be based: We believe that fracking fails on all counts and should be banned in Scotland and across the whole of the UK, even if this seems more unlikely in England at this moment (see here). The fracking industry’s Achilles-heel is that it lacks any meaningful public support, even in the US. A recent Gallup Poll undertaken there found that: only 36% favour fracking, with 51% opposing it. Dare an increasingly unpopular UK Government continue to support its business funding links at the expense of the public when even its Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Public Opinion Tracker published in October 2016 found that: only 17% of the general public support fracking.  In comparison: 79% support renewables. Another opinion poll undertaken by ICM (for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers) two years ago found that nearly half of those surveyed would be unhappy to have a fracking play within a 10-mileradius of their homes.  Proximity is an important issue in the UK. In Scotland fracking wells will be located close to densely populated areas. A survey by BMG Research reported in the Herald newspaper last month found that 54% of Scottish respondents said that they supported a ban on fracking and fewer than a fifth were opposed to the ban. Francis Egan, Chief Executive of shale gas producer Cuadrilla, revealed at a recent House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee that his company has found it extremely difficult to get to the point of drilling even one well. This has taken around four years, he said.  In the same timeframe he said the US shale industry has drilled some 120,000 wells. Drilling anywhere near that number of wells in Scotland and England, would amount to the UK becoming one giant gas field.  Lower estimates suggest that around 16,000 wells will be drilled, which in terms of the tiny landmass of the UK is very significant indeed.  Wells will be fracked near and perhaps even under people’s homes, their places of work, and the schools that their children attend. In the US fracking is proving to be a boom and bust industry. At a recent Oil and Gas UK Business Breakfast, Martin Gilbert the Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management also said that fracking is a debt-laden industry. We can expect the same to happen here if we allow fracking. Last month’s KPMG “Economic Impact Assessment and Scenario Development of Unconventional Oil and Gas” report, written for the Scottish Government, revealed that, “If oil and gas prices were to remain at historically low levels, it would be unlikely that Unconventional Oil and Gas resources could be developed economically.” Taking the lower measurements of economic contribution of Unconventional Oil and Gas to Scotland up to 2062, it is astonishing how low these are: Perhaps these negligible economic benefits should be of no surprise. A plain speaking letter written last year by more than 800 people holding public office in New York State, US, to Lancashire County Council, England, stated that:“We are sure that the fracking industry will promise jobs and prosperity. We urge you to treat these claims with deep skepticism. The experience in the US is that these claims are false and vastly overstated.” In terms of impact on jobs, in Australia it has been found that for every 10 new gas jobs created, 18 agricultural jobs were lost. In addition, the New York State letter outlined some of the other immense costs attached to fracking: “Meanwhile, local communities are faced with significant costs including road and infrastructure damage, emergency response, heightened crime rates, and lingering contamination and pollution.” Fracking will prove toxic to other economically important sectors. Drawing on experience from elsewhere it may well damage tourism, the agricultural, food and drink sectors, and even the banking sector. In addition to being famous for its castles, whisky and fare, one of Scotland’s unique international selling points is the scenic beauty of its mountains, rivers and wider natural environment. A natural environment that is free of toxic water, land and air. Any major fracking push will undoubtedly damage Scotland’s brand and the wider economy long term. To date there has been little discussion on the impact on the finance and banking sectors. However, the aforementioned KPMG report did state, “Development of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Scotland will also rely on an ability to obtain appropriate funding (debt and/or equity) to support exploration and extraction.” The recent financial crisis witnessed in the US fracking industry will undoubtedly impact on the banking sector’s appetite to invest up to $100 billion over a 20-year period to make the industry meaningful in the UK.  Since the start of last year, more than 60 North American oil and gas companies have gone bust, with liabilities totaling $22.5 billion. According to one report, “even if crude prices return to $50 to $60 a barrel, half of the shale companies will be unable to stay in business”. Closer to home The Telegraph has recently reported that Cuadrilla had very little revenue in 2015, recording losses of almost $18 million. Yet the independent news site Drill or Drop revealed that Cuadrilla’s directors were paid more than $1.5 million in 2015, with the highest paid director receiving a pay packet of more than $700,000. With such losses the question arises, will the fracking industry ever generate any tax revenue for the Treasury? It would be possible to ask the Office for Budget Responsibility for their best guess but why bother given the inaccuracies of their previous oil and gas forecasts? Based on the US experience, and there is no evidence to suggest it would be any different here in the UK, fracking fails spectacularly when it comes to public health and impact on the natural environment. Following the publication of a high quality report by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, one of their Commissioners said: “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.” It is clear that government, business, and researchers (medical, natural and social scientists) are only just starting to understand the wider impacts on people and the environment.  The scientific literature that is available has mostly been published since 2013. Further to the comprehensive evidence documented by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation one recent article that reviews the now rapidly expanding field of public health and environment impacts produced some damning results.  For the sake of brevity the results are: This article, “Toward an Understanding of the Environmental Health Impacts of Unconventional Natural Gas Development” and the literature upon which it is based, is a must read for anyone wishing to understand the risks associated with fracking. A filmed presentation of the findings and the methodology that underpins this article can be viewed at the 2016 Shale Gas and Public Health Conference. A second study clearly indicates the dangerous, and arguably unacceptable nature of the chemicals used in fracking.  Undertaken by the Yale School of Public Health and published in the journal “Science of the Total Environment” it found that numerous carcinogens involved in fracking have the “potential” to contaminate water, land and air.  The research team examined an extensive list of chemicals. Both the UK and Scottish Government have scored brownie points in the past by claiming to be family-friendly in their approach to making policy decisions. Here is an acid test for them. Research has shown the most vulnerable section of society through their potential exposure to the carcinogenic pollutants used in fracking are children, with leukemia being a major concern. So a question for Theresa May, Greg Clark, and Nicola Sturgeon: What is more important to you, the dividends that will be paid to shareholders in oil companies or the health of children of ordinary people? The science behind the public health and environment impacts of fracking is now starting to emerge, with more public and privately funded research needed.  But what should concern the general public is that insufficient weight appears to being attached to these issues.  What peer-reviewed medical evidence that is available appears to being overlooked to facilitate fracking.  Fracking without Carbon Capture and Storage  (CCS) technology is a show-stopper. Commissioned by the Scottish Government, the report“Unconventional Oil and Gas: Compatibility with Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets” concludes that emissions from fracking, would be “significant” and “inconsistent” with climate change emission targets. Research by Professor Nick Cowern and Dr Robin Russell-Jones submitted to the UK Climate Change Committee identified a key problem with fracked gas: from a climate change perspective, fugitivemethane emissions make shale gas worse than coal by a factor of two.   Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.  It has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 87 times greater than an equivalent mass of CO2 on a 20 year timeframe.  These researchers have further noted, “that overall half of the rise in atmospheric levels of methane seen globally since 2007 is due to oil and gas, notably shale extraction in the US”. Fracking is a gangplank for climate chaos.  As such, where does this leave our commitments to the Paris Agreement? Onshore fracking, rather than being a panacea to the multifaceted energy conundrum confronted by UK, is more likely to exacerbate its dire energy plight.  First, fracking fails lamentably to address the looming 2020 energy crisis for a multitude of reasons, including the obvious fact that a UK shale revolution could never happen quickly enough. It would only take one untoward incident – be it contamination of an aquifer, leakage of methane on a grand scale, flooding from one of the huge number of required decontaminating standing storage units for polluted water from the wells or even a fracking-induced earthquake – to totally derail the entire UK fracking venture. There has to be a better way to keep the lights burning and our homes warm. Second, by placing too much focus on fracking at the expense of other energy options the UK Government is creating energy insecurity.  It is a threat to the offshore oil and gas industry and the renewables sector. Fracking in the US has caused the loss of thousands of UK North Sea-related jobs. It is unimaginable that a UK Government should add to that woe by aping US fracking folly. Third, the focus by the UK Government on “gas” as a bridging fuel is derailing the UK’s transition to a lower carbon economy.  Is the UK really serious about taking a world lead in showing the way forward for others to follow? Or has a short-term fix blinded Westminster to taking an ethical approach to its energy policy? Scotland says Fraxit, England should too The SNP pledged in their 2016 Manifesto, “We will not allow fracking or Underground Coal Gasification in Scotland unless it can be proved beyond any doubt that it will not harm our environment, communities or public health.” Based on this statement, the publication of their six expert reports on fracking and other evidence (including that presented in this article) the SNP Government at Holyrood should, with pride, take an ethical approach and ban onshore fracking. Nicola Sturgeon should meet the challenge head on and show the outside world that Scotland really has the claim to being an independent free thinking nation, not controlled by short-term unethical fixes, or dominated by self-serving resource consuming nations like the US. As it happens, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s environmental watchdog, has just released an exhaustive study on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water in the US. According to the accompanying press release, in the study “EPA identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Impacts cited in the report generally occurred near hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells and ranged in severity, from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable.” Is this what we want to see happen in the UK as well? Ban fracking now and put Fraxit into the world lexicon.  Peter Strachan (@ProfStrachan) is Professor of Energy Policy, Robert Gordon University. Professor Alex Russell is Chair of the Oil Industry Finance Association.  The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and not those of the Robert Gordon University or Affiliates. 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News Article | December 18, 2016
Site: www.theenergycollective.com

On Tuesday the US Environmental Protection Agency released a definitive study concluding that hydraulic fracturing can impact drinking water at each stage in the shale gas production process. Do we really want to see 16,000 or more shale gas wells drilled in the British countryside carrying the same and other risks, ask professors Peter Strachan and Alex Russell?  They assess the case for fracking in the UK against six “stress tests” and conclude that it fails in each case. “Let’s Fraxit now!” Plans for onshore shale gas extraction – or rather high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) or fracking – are proving to be somewhat explosive in the UK. Politically there is a north south divide on the wisdom of engaging with fracking, with the Conservative controlled south hell bent on pushing it at all costs and the Scottish National Party (SNP) north dancing a ‘dinna ken’ highland jig around the issue, much to the chagrin of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Following the publication of six reports on 8 November the Scottish Government has now announced that it will launch a consultation in January 2017, with a final decision likely to be reached in the second half of 2017. At a recent Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Oil and Gas meeting (see this article for a report), six “stress tests” were discussed on which a decision should logically be based: We believe that fracking fails on all counts and should be banned in Scotland and across the whole of the UK, even if this seems more unlikely in England at this moment (see here). The fracking industry’s Achilles-heel is that it lacks any meaningful public support, even in the US. A recent Gallup Poll undertaken there found that: only 36% favour fracking, with 51% opposing it. Dare an increasingly unpopular UK Government continue to support its business funding links at the expense of the public when even its Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Public Opinion Tracker published in October 2016 found that: only 17% of the general public support fracking.  In comparison: 79% support renewables. Another opinion poll undertaken by ICM (for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers) two years ago found that nearly half of those surveyed would be unhappy to have a fracking play within a 10-mile radius of their homes.  Proximity is an important issue in the UK. In Scotland fracking wells will be located close to densely populated areas. A survey by BMG Research reported in the Herald newspaper last month found that 54% of Scottish respondents said that they supported a ban on fracking and fewer than a fifth were opposed to the ban. Francis Egan, Chief Executive of shale gas producer Cuadrilla, revealed at a recent House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee that his company has found it extremely difficult to get to the point of drilling even one well. This has taken around four years, he said.  In the same timeframe he said the US shale industry has drilled some 120,000 wells. Drilling anywhere near that number of wells in Scotland and England, would amount to the UK becoming one giant gas field.  Lower estimates suggest that around 16,000 wells will be drilled, which in terms of the tiny landmass of the UK is very significant indeed.  Wells will be fracked near and perhaps even under people’s homes, their places of work, and the schools that their children attend. In the US fracking is proving to be a boom and bust industry. At a recent Oil and Gas UK Business Breakfast, Martin Gilbert the Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management also said that fracking is a debt-laden industry. We can expect the same to happen here if we allow fracking. Last month’s KPMG “Economic Impact Assessment and Scenario Development of Unconventional Oil and Gas” report, written for the Scottish Government, revealed that, “If oil and gas prices were to remain at historically low levels, it would be unlikely that Unconventional Oil and Gas resources could be developed economically.” Taking the lower measurements of economic contribution of Unconventional Oil and Gas to Scotland up to 2062, it is astonishing how low these are: Perhaps these negligible economic benefits should be of no surprise. A plain speaking letter written last year by more than 800 people holding public office in New York State, US, to Lancashire County Council, England, stated that:“We are sure that the fracking industry will promise jobs and prosperity. We urge you to treat these claims with deep skepticism. The experience in the US is that these claims are false and vastly overstated.” In terms of impact on jobs, in Australia it has been found that for every 10 new gas jobs created, 18 agricultural jobs were lost. In addition, the New York State letter outlined some of the other immense costs attached to fracking: “Meanwhile, local communities are faced with significant costs including road and infrastructure damage, emergency response, heightened crime rates, and lingering contamination and pollution.” Fracking will prove toxic to other economically important sectors. Drawing on experience from elsewhere it may well damage tourism, the agricultural, food and drink sectors, and even the banking sector. In addition to being famous for its castles, whisky and fare, one of Scotland’s unique international selling points is the scenic beauty of its mountains, rivers and wider natural environment. A natural environment that is free of toxic water, land and air. Any major fracking push will undoubtedly damage Scotland’s brand and the wider economy long term. To date there has been little discussion on the impact on the finance and banking sectors. However, the aforementioned KPMG report did state, “Development of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Scotland will also rely on an ability to obtain appropriate funding (debt and/or equity) to support exploration and extraction.” The recent financial crisis witnessed in the US fracking industry will undoubtedly impact on the banking sector’s appetite to invest up to $100 billion over a 20-year period to make the industry meaningful in the UK.  Since the start of last year, more than 60 North American oil and gas companies have gone bust, with liabilities totaling $22.5 billion. According to one report, “even if crude prices return to $50 to $60 a barrel, half of the shale companies will be unable to stay in business”. Closer to home The Telegraph has recently reported that Cuadrilla had very little revenue in 2015, recording losses of almost $18 million. Yet the independent news site Drill or Drop revealed that Cuadrilla’s directors were paid more than $1.5 million in 2015, with the highest paid director receiving a pay packet of more than $700,000. With such losses the question arises, will the fracking industry ever generate any tax revenue for the Treasury? It would be possible to ask the Office for Budget Responsibility for their best guess but why bother given the inaccuracies of their previous oil and gas forecasts? Based on the US experience, and there is no evidence to suggest it would be any different here in the UK, fracking fails spectacularly when it comes to public health and impact on the natural environment. Following the publication of a high quality report by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, one of their Commissioners said: “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.” It is clear that government, business, and researchers (medical, natural and social scientists) are only just starting to understand the wider impacts on people and the environment.  The scientific literature that is available has mostly been published since 2013. Further to the comprehensive evidence documented by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation one recent article that reviews the now rapidly expanding field of public health and environment impacts produced some damning results.  For the sake of brevity the results are: This article, “Toward an Understanding of the Environmental Health Impacts of Unconventional Natural Gas Development” and the literature upon which it is based, is a must read for anyone wishing to understand the risks associated with fracking. A filmed presentation of the findings and the methodology that underpins this article can be viewed at the 2016 Shale Gas and Public Health Conference. A second study clearly indicates the dangerous, and arguably unacceptable nature of the chemicals used in fracking.  Undertaken by the Yale School of Public Health and published in the journal “Science of the Total Environment” it found that numerous carcinogens involved in fracking have the “potential” to contaminate water, land and air.  The research team examined an extensive list of chemicals. Both the UK and Scottish Government have scored brownie points in the past by claiming to be family-friendly in their approach to making policy decisions. Here is an acid test for them. Research has shown the most vulnerable section of society through their potential exposure to the carcinogenic pollutants used in fracking are children, with leukemia being a major concern. So a question for Theresa May, Greg Clark, and Nicola Sturgeon: What is more important to you, the dividends that will be paid to shareholders in oil companies or the health of children of ordinary people? The science behind the public health and environment impacts of fracking is now starting to emerge, with more public and privately funded research needed.  But what should concern the general public is that insufficient weight appears to being attached to these issues.  What peer-reviewed medical evidence that is available appears to being overlooked to facilitate fracking. Fracking without Carbon Capture and Storage  (CCS) technology is a show-stopper. Commissioned by the Scottish Government, the report “Unconventional Oil and Gas: Compatibility with Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets” concludes that emissions from fracking, would be “significant” and “inconsistent” with climate change emission targets. Research by Professor Nick Cowern and Dr Robin Russell-Jones submitted to the UK Climate Change Committee identified a key problem with fracked gas: from a climate change perspective, fugitive methane emissions make shale gas worse than coal by a factor of two. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.  It has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 87 times greater than an equivalent mass of CO2 on a 20 year timeframe.  These researchers have further noted, “that overall half of the rise in atmospheric levels of methane seen globally since 2007 is due to oil and gas, notably shale extraction in the US”. Fracking is a gangplank for climate chaos.  As such, where does this leave our commitments to the Paris Agreement? Onshore fracking, rather than being a panacea to the multifaceted energy conundrum confronted by UK, is more likely to exacerbate its dire energy plight. First, fracking fails lamentably to address the looming 2020 energy crisis for a multitude of reasons, including the obvious fact that a UK shale revolution could never happen quickly enough. It would only take one untoward incident – be it contamination of an aquifer, leakage of methane on a grand scale, flooding from one of the huge number of required decontaminating standing storage units for polluted water from the wells or even a fracking-induced earthquake – to totally derail the entire UK fracking venture. There has to be a better way to keep the lights burning and our homes warm. Second, by placing too much focus on fracking at the expense of other energy options the UK Government is creating energy insecurity.  It is a threat to the offshore oil and gas industry and the renewables sector. Fracking in the US has caused the loss of thousands of UK North Sea-related jobs. It is unimaginable that a UK Government should add to that woe by aping US fracking folly. Third, the focus by the UK Government on “gas” as a bridging fuel is derailing the UK’s transition to a lower carbon economy.  Is the UK really serious about taking a world lead in showing the way forward for others to follow? Or has a short-term fix blinded Westminster to taking an ethical approach to its energy policy? The SNP pledged in their 2016 Manifesto, “We will not allow fracking or Underground Coal Gasification in Scotland unless it can be proved beyond any doubt that it will not harm our environment, communities or public health.” Based on this statement, the publication of their six expert reports on fracking and other evidence (including that presented in this article) the SNP Government at Holyrood should, with pride, take an ethical approach and ban onshore fracking. Nicola Sturgeon should meet the challenge head on and show the outside world that Scotland really has the claim to being an independent free thinking nation, not controlled by short-term unethical fixes, or dominated by self-serving resource consuming nations like the US. As it happens, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s environmental watchdog, has just released an exhaustive study on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water in the US. According to the accompanying press release, in the study “EPA identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Impacts cited in the report generally occurred near hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells and ranged in severity, from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable.” Is this what we want to see happen in the UK as well? Ban fracking now and put Fraxit into the world lexicon. Peter Strachan (@ProfStrachan) is Professor of Energy Policy, Robert Gordon University. Professor Alex Russell is Chair of the Oil Industry Finance Association.  The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and not those of the Robert Gordon University or Affiliates.


News Article | December 19, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A PROJECT that could lead to major cost savings for UK rail operators has earned a prestigious award for a University of Huddersfield researcher. Dr Yousif Muhamedsalih, of the University's Institute of Railway Research, has been named Best Young Researcher of 2016 by Rail Research UK Association (RRUK), in tandem with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). Judges praised him for tackling "a problem that has been of interest to mechanical engineers since the railways began". The problem is how to extend the life of railway wheelsets - how often and how much they can safely be reprofiled before they have to be scrapped and replaced. One approach is known as Economic Tyre Turning (ETT), described as "the process of turning wheels to a profile that has the same tread shape but a thinner flange, allowing less material to be removed from the wheel diameter". The use of ETT can extend wheel life, especially as modern lathes are capable of the required precision - but current GB railway standards do not permit its use. This was the background to the research conducted by Dr Yousif Muhamedsalih, Julian Stow and Dr Adam Bevan, and described by Dr Muhamedsalih in detail in a presentation for the 11th World Congress on Railway Research that took place in Milan, Italy. His research was undertaken by computer simulation and by carrying out tests on the iconic Pendolino trains run by Virgin Trains. Dr Muhamedsalih has concluded that ETT is not only safe, but it could have the ability to avoid the unnecessary costs in early replacement of wheelsets when they have significant remaining life. This could lead to changes in overhaul strategies, reducing costs to the rail industry. Computer simulations were used to predict both the magnitude of wheel wear and the worn shape of the designed and re-profiled wheels and this provided data for in-service trials carried out by Virgin Trains after it had been given the go-ahead by the Rolling Stock Standards Committee. It was in December 2015 that appraisal of ETT on a Pendolino began, when Alstom Transport had turned 20 axles on five vehicles to thin flange wheel profiles. Trials continued until March 2016, after the train had covered around 70,000 miles travelling between Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston. Dr Muhamedsalih carried out weekly assessments of the wear on the wheelsets. "The outcome supported the simulation results, which predicted that tread and flange wear rate would be the same for thin and full flange profiles. The ride quality assessments results shows that the change of flange thickness had limited overall effect on the average passenger comfort," he states. This helps to make the case for ETT - already widely employed in Europe - being allowed in Britain. The project earned Dr Muhamedsalih a nomination for the RRUK Best Young Researcher of the Year Award, and he was selected by the panel of judges. He has received his certificate and £1,000 prize at the RRUK's London AGM. Yousif Muhamedsalih was born in Britain, but his family returned to Iraq, where he obtained his first degrees. He relocated to the UK for a University of Huddersfield MSc in Control Systems, moving on to doctoral research. After being awarded his PhD in 2015, he was appointed a research fellow at the University's Institute of Railway Research, where he carries out work with the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) as part of a strategic partnership.


News Article | March 15, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

The UK could face power outages and missing emissions targets if the nuclear plant isn’t built – but that doesn’t mean it should be Nuclear power stations are always controversial, but the UK’s proposed Hinkley Point C is particularly so. It may well be the most expensive object ever built; it guarantees higher power bills; and it’s already taken down executives, despite construction yet to start. Hinkley Point C is set to be the first new nuclear power station built in the UK since 1995, poised to hit the grid as older nuclear sites and coal are ditched. However, its high costs are now leaving the project—and the future of the UK’s power supply—in danger. Set to be built in Somerset by energy company EDF, which is majority-owned by the French government, there’s a chance Hinkley Point C may collapse before it’s built, and it’s nothing to do with protesters or environmental complaints. The problem with Hinkley is money: its costs risen to £18 billion ($25 billion)—with some projecting the final cost to be £24 billion ($34 billion)—and EDF has yet to finalise funding. Though it is expected to sign off on the project soon, financial analysts stressed last week that EDF can’t afford to build it. The delays may already cause shortages in the UK’s electricity supply as it's currently planned, which would naturally worsen if the project fails to get off the ground. The plant is supposed to start operations in 2025, when several older nuclear sites are decommissioned and the deadline hits for shutting down coal plants. Tony Roulstone, a professor setting up the University of Cambridge’s new MPhil in nuclear energy, believes the project will take ten years to construct, and given work isn’t expected to start until 2018 or 2019, will miss its deadline. “This will put the UK in a difficult position because they were counting on electricity from Hinkley by 2025,” Roulstone said. “As some have said, the UK does not have a plan B,” he added. “The AGRs [advanced gas-cooled reactors, which make up most of the UK power stations] will close down by 2030 and at that stage we would have just one nuclear power station, Sizewell B.” Hinkley Point C is expected to provide 7 percent of the UK’s energy. At the moment, about a fifth of the UK’s power comes from the eight currently-operating nuclear plants, but seven of those are due to be decommissioned. That, alongside the planned closure of coal plants, which make up 22 percent of our power today, led the Institution of Mechanical Engineers to claim in a report we could see a potential supply gap of 40 to 55 percent by 2025. “If you follow these policies then a gap is likely,” explained Jennifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. “What is not clear is how long extensions to current nuclear and coal fired power stations will be [able] to account for the lack of new build power stations.” For its part, EDF has said it is confident the nuclear plant will go ahead. To see where it’s headed next, it’s necessary to recap its history. Hinkley Point C has been in the works for six years, and will—as the name suggests—be built alongside decommissioned Hinkley Point A and still-operating Hinkley Point B, which is set to be decommissioned. The project was first announced during a five-year span in which the British government decided it wasn’t going to offer public funds for nuclear projects, leaving EDF to stump up the cash. Last year, with help from Chancellor George Osborne, EDF convinced China General Nuclear Power Corporation to pay a third of the project’s cost for a 33.5 percent share. The British government stepped in to help on another front, promising a minimum price per megawatt hour of electricity of £92.50 ($130)—which many have pointed out is twice the current cost and well above that from other power sources, including wind farms. EDF is set to make a final decision on funding the project soon, ahead of a board meeting in April, after multiple delays. However, back in February the project’s director, Chris Bakken, stepped down to “pursue new professional opportunities,” and more recently the company’s finance director, Thomas Piquemal, departed, with rumours suggesting he believed the project would damage EDF’s finances too much. Where Hinkley Point C is planned to be built. Image: EDF The board-level turmoil might actually be a sign that EDF’s remaining executives plan to approve the project, according to Martin Freer, director of the Birmingham Centre of Nuclear Education and Research and a professor of physics at the University of Birmingham. “My take on the resignation of the chief of finance signals that the HPC [Hinkley Point C] decision is being pushed through against the judgement of financial caution,” Freer told me. “EDF are at a point in their history where they roll the dice and hope to be lucky.” Roulstone noted that the new plant’s construction cost is the same as EDF’s capitalisation. “Only major sales of assets and/or funding by the French government can rescue EDF and hence Hinkley,” he said. If Hinkley fails, the UK may have to turn to other sources. While giving a reprieve to coal won’t be good news for emissions targets, stepping back from nuclear could help spur the take-up of alternatives such as renewable resources (solar, tidal and wind, for example). However, the most likely source of energy will be Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT), which use natural gas. “Because CCGT plants can be built quickly, supply can be filled, but it will not be low-carbon,” Roulstone said. Hinkley’s failure need not mean the end of Britain’s nuclear ambitions. There are other nuclear projects in the pipeline, though there’s debate as to how Hinkley Point C failing could impact those too. “If Hinkley does not go ahead the other projects led by Hitachi and Toshiba will also be negatively affected, with either delays or perhaps cancellation,” Roulstone predicted, saying investors could lose confidence in the UK’s abilities to successfully back such large projects. However, Freer believes Hinkley failing would be a “real setback, but not a disaster.” He pointed to Hitachi’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR). “This is a cheaper, simpler and demonstrated reactor design, which is widely believed to be a safer bet in terms of the potential for delivery,” he said, adding that the ABWR will likely be built by 2025 regardless of what happens with Hinkley. The Chinese firm that’s backed Hinkley could also step in with a different design, with sites already “earmarked for this purpose," Greer said. Freer suggested that there’s more than power supply and emissions targets at risk. “The governments of the UK, France, and China have invested huge amounts of political capital in seeing Hinkley Point C come to the point of construction,” he said. “This political capital lies with the public, convincing them that nuclear is part of a low-carbon future; [with the] the financial institutions, convincing them that when the UK makes a decision it sticks to it and hence the UK is an investable proposition; and with international governments—when the UK makes an international agreement it is binding.”

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