We heard this week the news that Trawsfynydd might be in line for another Nuclear Power Plant. However, this time it would be different. The £200m investment would be into what is dubbed an SMR, a Small Modular Reactor.
I first came across SMRs in 2013 during the Plaid Cymru Dwyfor Meirionnydd Constituency hustings, when the then Plaid AM Dafydd Elis Thomas, seeking re-nomination, voiced his total support for what he called a mini nuclear power plant.
I was against it then. I’m against it today.
I like to have an open mind on everything, but nothing has convinced me yet that we should support nuclear.
The £200m and the prospect of creating ‘jobs’ is appealing to many, especially politicians.
But I don’t buy it.
First of all, we don’t necessarily need any more electricity production in Wales. We already produce far more than we consume, and we pay more for it.
Wales won’t get the financial benefits of this development, other than the vague promise of jobs.
The Government have agreed a massive strike price for Hinkley Point Power Station. Now this Trawsfynydd development won’t be on that scale. Far from it. But it will nonetheless have a large strike price. This means that it will be publicly subsidised. Furthermore, it will receive massive subsidies when decommissioned as well. We’re talking here about subsidies to the value of hundreds of millions. Indeed, the latest figures show that subsidy for the electricity generated at Hinkley C will be north of £30bn. Its decommissioning cost will be over £7bn (at present prices).
These are huge amounts of money we’re talking about here. Even if Trawsfynydd B (for want of a better name) only gets a fraction of these subsidies, imagine what you could do to the economy of Meirionnydd and Gwynedd with that kind of money?
But since job creation has been cited by some as an argument for the development, what of these jobs?
Well, it doesn’t seem that everything is that rosy on that front. First of all, with any large infrastructure projects like these one, job creation numbers are routinely inflated because they include the construction jobs.
Yet, according to the World Nuclear Association,
“Because of their small size and modularity, SMRs could almost be completely built in a controlled factory setting and installed module by module, improving the level of construction quality and efficiency.
So the jobs in construction is a non-starter. It’s likely that the proposed Trawsfynydd SMR would be built off-site, without using the local labour force.
Moreover, that report by the World Nuclear Association states,
“Most (SMRs) are also designed for a high level of passive or inherent safety in the event of malfunction”
So that’s less jobs in safety and security as well then (though I’m not convinced that’s wise, mind!)
But what’s most infuriating about the jobs argument is that they’ve known about this eventuality — the fact that Trawsfynydd Power Station was going to close — for over fifty years!
The Power Plant was commissioned in 1965, and had a life span of approximately 30 years. It’s decommissioning would last twenty years. That’s fifty years since being commissioned for someone to come up with a plan to replace the jobs that would disappear once everything had been finished. And what did they come up with? Nothing. Meirionnydd continues to be the area in the UK with the lowest income per household.
If the Government were serious about bringing well paid jobs to Meirionnydd then they would have done this by now. But they’re not, and they haven’t.
Another argument put forward in favour of SMR’s is that they could fulfil the need of a cogeneration function.
The ostensible function of nuclear power plants is to provide the base load electricity for our needs. However a straight forward base load function leads to a surplus of production when demand is low. Recently Nuclear Power Plants have been expected to carry out what’s called a Load Following function, that is to generate energy to answer the demand. However, according to those in the know, this mode is also inefficient:
“This introduces thermomechanical stresses in the reactor fuel and components. Even though this problem can be mitigated by modern NPPs (Nuclear Power Plants) designs (NEA — OECD 2011), the NPP still essentially remains under-utilized, since a reduction of the production represents a loss of revenues without any significant variable cost reduction.”
Simply put, it costs more.
In this instance, it could be that Trawsfynydd B would become an auxiliary system for Wylfa B, so that Wylfa B can continue to produce electricity at full tilt and transfer it’s excess production to Trawsfynydd.
As the Paper “Cogeneration: An option to facilitate load following in Small Modular Reactors” states:
A suitable cogeneration system needs:
To have a demand of electricity and/or heat in the region of 500 MWe–1.5 GWt;
To meet a significant market demand;
But as we’ve already established, Wales already generates enough electricity to meet the nation’s demands. This would therefore clearly be for the benefit of someone else, not Wales, and certainly not Meirionnydd.
Indeed, under ‘Advantages and potential uses’ the Wikipedia page says
I think that we can discount that as far as Trawsfynydd goes.
There are no advantages to having a ‘mini’ Nuclear Power Plant in Trawsfynydd.
Unless you want to maintain the UK’s status as a Nuclear Power — by that I mean, a country wielding the biggest, and worst WMD imaginable — a nuclear weapon.
This is what Lord Hutton, Chair of the Nuclear Industries Association:
“A UK SMR programme would support all ten ‘pillars’ of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and assist in sustaining the skills required for the Royal Navy’s submarine programme.”
There we have it.
There are multiple other ways of producing electricity and energy. We have the science, the knowledge and the capacity. If the same Research and Development funds were put into developing long lasting batteries, then our energy problems would be solved. Sadly, it’s not, and money continues to be poured into nuclear, not for civilian or business purposes, but for military purposes.
Prof. Andy Stirling and Dr Phil Johnstone from Sussex University have done a lot of work looking into the relationship between military and civil nuclear projects.
Here’s one extract from evidence they provided to a Westminster committee:
3.7: Civil-military links are implicitly prominent in important UK nuclear policy interventions. Civilmilitary nuclear industrial dependencies are quite well documented on the military side 30 . But, with one Parliamentary witness emphasising that any connections must be “carefully managed to avoid the perception that they are one and the same” 31 , they have remained almost entirely unacknowledged on the civil energy strategy side 32 . Yet despite this apparent lack of candour, a number of joint policy initiatives nonetheless underscore official recognition of the importance of these links. A joint civilmilitary ‘Key Suppliers Forum’ was set up in 2006 33; with announcement for the National Nuclear Skills Academy following in 2007 34 . The Cogent agency spans both civil and military nuclear needs 35 , with combined nuclear skills prioritised in many other policy initiatives 36 . The priority UK research programme on small modular reactors (SMRs) also addresses perceived joint civil-military demand 37 . And days before former Chancellor George Osborne concluded the 2016 Beijing agreement on Chinese financing and supply for HPC, the prime importance of reserving business for the UK submarine supply chain was signalled, with Rolls Royce benefiting from £100 million worth of project contracts 38 .
Indeed, as Prof. Stirling and Dr Johnstone says in their evidence, (see the link) the military side of nuclear operations are pretty candid about the links between civil nuclear projects and the military.
Just look at Rolls Royce, the UK’s lead research organisation into SMRs, brochure on Small Modular Reactors:
One particular application for deployment of the talent developed through the UK SMR programme would be in the ongoing maintenance of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent.
And where does Rolls Royce plan to develop their SMRs?
Just look at their map:
Do we want to play a part in developing Weapons of Mass Destruction here?
And if there’s any doubt, it’s worth considering that a warning was given last August that the US’ nuclear might was dependent on the countries civilian atomic energy programme.
The link between the civil nuclear industry and the military’s ability to maintain its nuclear weapons capability is spelt out in a report by experts close to the Pentagon…
The Washington-based Energy Futures Initiative report, says that Russia and China, which are both building civil nuclear stations outside their national borders, will overtake America both in influence and ability to deliver a nuclear threat unless steps are taken to prop up the civil nuclear programme at home.
You can read the full article here.
Is that what we really want?
Or do we believe that the vast amounts of money they’re proposing to spend on developing, subsidising and researching these things could be used for something else; creating more jobs; and help us play our part in non-proliferation and a nuclear free world?
I know what sort of Wales I want to see.
And in case there’s any doubt, it doesn’t contain nuclear.
p.s. I haven’t even touched on the waste and the radioactive hazard associated with nuclear!