The Chinese owning and operating nuclear power plants in Britain?
You can’t make this stuff up!
– Britain’s lights could go out next winter! EU green directives have left grid ‘close to limit’ (Daily Mail, Oct 25, 2013):
- Royal Academy of Engineering warns of risk as old plants begin to close
- Electrical system could be under the most pressure next winter
- National Grid last week warned of Britain’s risk of blackouts this winter
- Latest report suggests system should cover demand but will be stretched
- Power supply could be put at risk by low wind or even cold weather
Britain could be hit by power cuts next winter because the electricity supply is already ‘close to its limits’, experts warn.
Capacity is so stretched that a cold spell, combined with routine problems at one or more plants, could overwhelm the system and see blackouts in 2014-15, their damning report claims.
A major pressure on the National Grid is the forced closure of coal-fired power stations to meet European green directives, the Royal Academy of Engineering says.
But the drive to low-carbon power from wind farms and new nuclear power stations ‘will come at a cost’ and the authors call for politicians to be honest with the public about it.
Ed Miliband has promised to freeze energy prices for 20 months if Labour wins the 2015 General Election but the report, commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, says the major power firms already lack the certainty about prices to invest in desperately-needed new capacity, and will find it difficult to secure supply in future while trying to keep bills low.
Two of the Big Six energy firms have already announced inflation-busting price increases this winter, with British Gas’s 9.2 per cent rise yesterday following SSE’s 8 per cent rise last week.
For the report, engineers looked at capacity in the power network this year, in 2015 and in 2019, and how the system would cope during a peak in demand such as that seen during the freezing winter of two years ago.
They concluded that a combination of adverse conditions is ‘likely to stretch the system close to its limits, notably during the winter of 2014-15, increasing the chance of power outages’.
Dr John Roberts, chairman of the working group, said these were ‘real sets of challenging conditions that have happened before and can be expected again in the future’.
However, coal and gas-fired power stations are being forced to close as they do not meet EU regulations on pollution, while four nuclear plants are scheduled to be phased out by 2019.
Dr Roberts said this ‘would reduce the flexibility of the system and increase the chances that otherwise manageable failures could jeopardise the country’s power supply’.
But Business Minister Michael Fallon insisted: ‘The lights are not going to go out. There will be a tightness in supply if nothing is done but stuff is being done.
‘We’ve opened six new gas plants already. Another is being built. You’re going to hear very soon about our investment in new nuclear power stations.’
The RAE experts interviewed staff at the National Grid, the regulator Ofgem, the Government and the big power firms.
They call on ministers to build more gas plants in the coming years, but say they must urge operators not to close them before 2015, and pay them to generate more capacity.
Ageing gas plants are being closed or mothballed because the high price of gas make them unprofitable.
And while coal prices have plummeted, undercut as a result of the shale gas boom in the US, around a dozen coal plants will close by 2015 because of green directives.
Dame Sue Ion, fellow of the RAE, who worked on the report, said: ‘We’re saying that when everything is going well there is enough capacity in the system, but if there is a bit of a problem such as one or two major stations going down for whatever reason and an anticyclone comes from over the Atlantic, then at peak, demand will potentially exceed supply.
‘We have quite a lot of renewable energy being installed but it is intermittent, so unless you have gas to back it up it’s a problem.
Whether the turbines are onshore or offshore, if it’s a cold winter that is not windy then only a very small amount of energy will be generated.’
Major investment is needed in the electricity network, she said, but the new wave of nuclear power stations announced today will not come online until at least 2020 – leaving a looming gap.‘In the long term we will need a lot more power’, she said. ‘The important thing is before any statements are made about fixing prices there have to be decisions made about how much investment is needed and how the costs of that investment – which do not come from taxation, they come out of electricity bills – will be paid for.’
Most of the network was built in the 1960s. Since then the population has risen by more than 10million – and the use of electricity in transport systems and to heat homes has soared.
Dr Roberts said: ‘Major investment is needed in the UK’s electricity system to achieve a modern, sustainable and secure service that will be the foundation of economic growth.
‘Government will set the market conditions but it is private industry that will invest the necessary money.
Most of the energy companies operating in this country are international organisations that will invest in the UK only if it proves to be an attractive market.
‘Modernising and decarbonising the system will come at a cost, with likely rises in the unit price of electricity and difficult decisions will need to be made.
It is vital that government and industry work together to foster a constructive dialogue with the public about the challenges we face.’
And now China’s allowed to control our nuclear plants
China will be allowed to own and operate a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain despite warnings the move is a ‘serious error’ that could undermine national security.
Chancellor George Osborne said yesterday he was happy for nuclear firms owned by the Chinese state to take a ‘majority stake’ in British power plants.
Billions of pounds of investment is likely to follow, with Chinese firms expected to take a major stake in the £14billion Hinkley C reactor planned for construction in Somerset.
But some experts have warned against giving China a controlling stake in the critical industry on national security grounds, arguing that it would leave Britain at the mercy of the Communist regime.
There are also concerns that the move could give China access to details about pressure points in Britain’s energy supplies and other sensitive information.
Mark Pritchard, a Tory member of Parliament’s national security strategy committee, said: ‘Investment is needed, but not at any cost, particularly when there are national security implications.
‘I don’t have a big problem with Chinese involvement in designing and building nuclear power stations but they should not be allowed to operate them.
‘It would be a serious error to let them have operational control of our electricity supply.’ The Chancellor has also faced criticism from human rights groups after failing to raise China’s appalling human rights record with officials during a week-long visit.
China’s state-controlled People’s Daily yesterday said a British admission that it had ‘mishandled’ the issue of Tibet had paved the way for a week that has seen Mr Osborne announce a string of Chinese investments in the UK.
CHINESE TRANSPARENCY FEARS
Chinese companies have been criticised for their lack of transparency in a survey released by an anti-corruption watchdog.
China got the lowest rating of the five major emerging economies, behind India, South Africa, Russia and Brazil.
‘Companies from China lag behind in every dimension with an overall score of 20 per cent,’ Berlin-based Transparency International says.
‘Given their growing influence in world markets, this is of concern.’ Firms were marked on how transparently they present anti-corruption measures and disclose data.
The claim was dismissed by Downing Street, which said Britain’s approach to Tibet and its spiritual leader the Dalai Lama had ‘not changed’.
Mr Osborne defended the planned investment by China, saying: ‘There are many countries in the world who wouldn’t want other countries involved in their civil nuclear programme – I do, because by the way, if it wasn’t Chinese investment or French investment, it would have to be British taxpayers, and I’d rather British taxpayers were spending their money on our schools and hospitals and those things, and let’s get the rest of the world investing in our energy.’
Officials insist the national security implications of extending China’s reach in the UK have been fully considered.
French energy firm EDF has been negotiating with three Chinese nuclear giants on the Hinkley C project. Initially Chinese companies are likely to hold a minority stake in any project, but this could rise over time to a majority.