A damning news report in today’s Times reveals that the company building Britain’s first nuclear power station for 21 years has been ordered to shut down five reactors in France for emergency tests. This is on top of seven that are already closed because of safety concerns.
Theresa May recently gave the go-ahead for a partnership project between the French energy firm EDF and China’s General Nuclear to construct two European pressurised reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
The controversial move will supposedly cost a cool £18bn, but as the ongoing troubles with EDF reactors in France indicate, the real cost is likely to be much higher.
Hinkley Point C will be a “European pressurised reactor” (EPR), of which there are currently no working examples worldwide.
An EPR is currently under construction in Flamanville, France. The project is now three times over budget, and six years behind schedule. Over 1,000 jobs have been cut to save €1bn, compromising safety. In Finland, another EPR is ten years late, and costs have more than doubled.
But if Hinkley Point does buck the trend and is completed on budget and on time, then the costs for consumers will still be astronomical. In a deal negotiated with the Tory Minister for Business and Energy, Greg Clark, the two firms commissioned to build Hinkley Point have been guaranteed £92.50 per megawatt-hour of electricity. That’s more than double the current price!
The National Audit Office says consumers will also pay £30bn through higher bills to subsidise EDF and General Nuclear.
More than one in ten households in the UK are currently in “fuel poverty”. According to the fuel-poverty campaign group Energy Bill Revolution, an estimated 15,000 people died as a direct result of not being able to heat their homes between December and March last year.
This is hardly surprising. Energy prices in the UK are the highest in Europe.
Under the watch of EDF, fuel prices look set to rise still further. In the short term, this is because the UK imports French electricity during periods of high demand (usually in December and January). With twelve French reactors now closed for inspection, and with 80% of French electricity being produced through nuclear power, France is now faced with massive fuel shortages.
Yesterday, French power prices reached their highest in four years. This crisis will undoubtedly have knock-on effects in the UK.
The construction of Hinkley Point has also come under widespread criticism because it comes at the expense of more sustainable energy sources. Its construction is far more carbon-intensive than renewable plants; and the ongoing mining of uranium ore produces huge amounts of carbon too.
The Tories have cut subsidies to renewable energies. For the £30bn subsidy to EDF, free solar panels to 7.5mn households could be funded. The power of Hinkley Point could be provided by four big wind farms.
The solution to these issues would, of course, be to remove the Tories from government, and nationalise the energy sector, bringing it under democratic workers control and management.
But unfortunately, under pressure from right wing Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn has dropped his 2015 leadership pledge to nationalise the “big six” energy firms in the UK – British Gas, SSE, Eon, Scottish Power, EDF, Npower and the National Grid.
Meanwhile, Britain continues to live under the yoke of an unelected right wing Prime Minister, intent on bringing ruin to the working class.
To avoid the financial and environmental disaster that will be Hinkley Point, it is essential that Labour members push Corbyn to renew his pledge to nationalise the “big 6”. If the Blairites disagree, then a quick reselection contest will reveal the extent of their mandate.