Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Monday, 1 August 2016

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station

It is of some relief that Theresa May has delayed finalising the contract to build Hinkley Point nuclear power station by EDF - let us hope that she has the courage to cancel the deal entirely - if this is possible.

Whenever this matter has been discussed in the media - it has seemed astonishing that the project had received any agreement whatsoever from those responsible for securing Britain's future energy needs - not least because the technology involved has still not proven to be viable. The two current projects underway in Finland and Flamanville in Northern France are still not in operation despite being years behind and having escalated in cost alarmingly.

It is true, by all accounts, that there is a sizeable gap in our future capacity to generate electricity and the means available to produce it. However the estimated cost of £18bn to build and the estimate that it will cost consumers of upwards of £30bn to run - should be enough to recognise that the Hinkley Point solution is simply far too speculative - if it is essential that this gap is filled.

Given that we are an island - it might be expected that succeeding governments would have insisted that significant funds were invested in wave and tidal power schemes as it has been known for decades that the burning of fossil fuel would cause global warming and nuclear energy production was dangerous and produced hazardous waste without satisfactory storage solutions.

The following account of the 'Salter's Duck' project, if true, gives significant insight into how apparently corrupt government procurement practices have become - and we can only speculate as to the extent of the damages the corporations involved will be awarded if the project is cancelled. It may now have reached the point where it is more expensive to cancel than it would be allow the contract to go ahead - even if it is assumed that it will never serve its claimed purpose.

The untimely death of Salter's Duck

"Traditional energy generators have generally not assisted the necessary moves towards renewable technology. While hydro and biomass are long-established, if under-used, parts of the power hierarchy, wind, solar and wave power must still battle to establish themselves. And they must do so against heavy odds, such as scant funding and even sabotage. The case of Salter's Duck is illuminating.

The Duck is a 300-tonne floating canister designed to drive a generator from the motion of bobbing up and down on waves like a duck. It was developed in the late '70s by a team headed by Professor Stephen Salter at Edinburgh University. This was one of several research groups set up after a 1976 judgment by the Department of Energy that wave power was the most promising renewable energy source.

By 1982, a consultant was able to report that the duck could be expected, with further development, to produce electricity at a cost of around 5.5 pence (about 12 cents) per kilowatt-hour, a price competitive with nuclear power (the most expensive commercial generation process in use in Britain). Clive Grove-Palmer, a respected department engineer seconded to work on the duck project, estimated that the cost could be got down around 3 pence per kilowatt-hour (about 7 cents).

Soon after this, the department's research and development advisory council (ACORD) met, excluding Grove-Palmer, and accepted a secret report, prepared by a unit based at British Atomic Energy Authority headquarters, claiming that wind power had more immediate commercial possibilities than wave power, and research funds should be shifted to it. The department, which was packed with nuclear supporters, had instructed ACORD to reduce its renewables research budget from £14 million £11 million. At the time, the department was spending around £200 million on nuclear research.

Grove-Palmer took early retirement as a result of the decision. “I resigned ... because they asked me to write the obituary of wave power. There was no way I could do that ... We were just ready to do the final year of development and then go to sea.”

It was eight months before wave power researchers were allowed to see the report on which ACORD based its decision to junk their work. Then, in January 1983, a research unit based at the Atomic Energy Authority came out with another report concealing the good figures for the Duck by averaging them in with figures for all wave power projects. This gave a non-commercial figure of 8-12 pence per kilowatt-hour.

Apparently still not satisfied that they had killed the Duck, opponents of the project then produced figures overestimating capital costs by a factor of 10, massively underestimating the reliability of undersea cables, and claiming that in mass production each Duck would cost about the same as one prototype.

After a long campaign to save the project, Professor Salter's team was forced to disperse in early 1987. “We must not waste another 15 years and dissipate the high motivation of another generation of young engineers”, wrote Salter in a memorandum to the House of Lords committee on renewable energy. “We must stop using grossly different assessment methods in a rat race between technologies at widely differing stages of their development. We must find a way of reporting accurate results to decision makers and have decision makers with enough technical knowledge to spot data massage if it occurs. I believe that this will be possible only if the control of renewable energy projects is completely removed from nuclear influences.”

I think we must assume that Grove-Palmer's recommendation was not heeded.

Coincidentally the term 'Duck Curve' has been used for what seems like spurious research in California to prove that renewable energy has had too much investment there - and presumably elsewhere!

One of the key concerns over TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] which the US government and the EU Commission had hoped would be ratified before Obama's term as president was over, but cannot now be achieved because of Brexit - is the plan to include penalty clauses into contracts between global corporations and EU nation states. These were so severe that the nation states would not be able to afford to change many of the plans that were in place when the deal was ratified. Earlier in the year when much of the draft TTIP agreement was leaked - these clauses were still present - although this had previously been denied.

Such clauses have been included in individual deals between global corporations and nation states before. Perhaps the most pertinent, at this point, followed Merkel's decision to abandon nuclear power in Germany in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster - this decision is likely to cost the German taxpayers $88bn - questions have been asked as to how this could have come about.

Is further investigation into the Panama Papers needed?

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