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The complexities of risk and reward in nuclear power

How do you assess risk? If you’re an energy provider looking to build a nuclear power station you’ll likely assess risks related to planning, investment, skills, and an energy price that makes the endeavour worthwhile.

In terms of energy production and peril, an engineer will boil risk down to a single figure derived from number of deaths per kW/hr that a certain technology is responsible for.

For the general public risk is that number derived by the engineer, then multiplied by some factor which is related to the perception of risk - and that factor can be thousands of times higher that what it is to engineers.

EDF Hinkley Point C nuclear power

Projected design for the EPR reactors and ancillary buildings at Hinkley Point C

There is also the risk that a proposed nuclear power station that has undergone extensive due diligence in the UK is hampered by the European Commission because of state aid regulations.

EDF Energy is confident that the outcomes of Electricity Market Reform, and the subsequent strike price of £92/MW for Hinkley Point C in Somerset through contracts for difference, are in line with European objectives.

Let’s hope they are, given the momentous journey the company has been on since 2007 when it first began assessing sites for new nuclear plants.

The £16bn commitment, made possible through partnerships across industry and government, will lead to two new reactors that will contribute around seven per cent of the nation’s energy.

Without wishing to state the obvious, the economic benefits will be considerable with around 5,000 to 6,000 people working on the site during construction and a further 25,000 indirectly benefitting from the project.

Once built, around 900 permanent staff will, in the words of Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF’s managing director of nuclear new build, help to provide secure, affordable and low carbon affordable electricity over its 60-year lifespan.

Furthermore, based on contract-by-contract analysis of capabilities EDF knows are in the UK, around 57 per cent of the construction value for the project will be spent with UK firms, who in turn have been encouraged to qualify as potential suppliers to Hinkley and subsequent projects both home and abroad.

EDF is committed also to investing in the skills required to build Hinkley Point C, funding the development of a new construction skills centre and spending £50m on redeveloping Cannington Court, EDF Energy’s training centre for the UK.

Households will benefit too with the department of energy and climate change estimating that the UK’s new nuclear program will save consumers £74 a year at today’s prices by 2026-30.

EDF is taking some flak right now in Suffolk where the Sizewell Parishes Liaison Group is warning of a growing feeling of resentment toward the proposed Sizewell C station.

They say: The feeling that the whole project is to be ‘imposed’ on the locality without proper influence from local people or their representatives in the District and County Councils, is rapidly increasing.’

This is a planning issue that EDF will no doubt sort out, with Cadoux-Hudson stating yesterday at WEET’s nuclear new build conference in London that the company has ‘a democratic duty to local communities…to demonstrate that everything we’re doing is to the highest quality.’

In Somerset, the company fully acknowledges the disruption as well as the opportunities and has made £100m available to local councils to help mitigate the impact of the new station during its construction period.

It’s also up to EDF to placate and educate those who rightfully raise their safety concerns about new reactor designs but maybe overestimate the risk by some orders of magnitude.

However, one of the biggest challenges – the European Commission’s state aid review - remains to be resolved.

They say: [EU] Member States are free to determine their energy mix but when public money is spent to support companies, the Commission has the duty to verify that this is done in line with the EU state aid rules which aim to preserve competition in the Single Market.

In a world of risk, one assumes EDF and DECC forsaw the challenges posed by the EC. In doing so, they will deliver what many see as the catalyst that will help boost engineering, technical skills and Britain’s manufacturing industry. 


Readers' comments (11)

  • One part of the complexity unmentioned by Ford: the natural gas revenue Hinkley Point C will deprive the UK government of.

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  • The general public is correct to suspect nuclear power as very dangerous not because nuclear power itself is dangerous but because human nature is simply incapable of safely operating such a system. The biggest risk is the permanent staff.

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  • There was a risk of cost over-run, as seen with the EPR in Finland and France, but not in China.

    EDF seems to be assuming that the 2 reactors will cost more than the Finnish build. They should cost a LOT less, but this risk cost has been passed on to the public in the form of a £92/MWh strike price.

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  • Risk for the UK: the lights WILL go out if we don't act.

    Immediately actionable solutions: list of one- Nuclear power.

    Number of serious incidents in the UK ever associated with Nuclear power generation. Zero.

    Risk: much less than the lights going out.

    Major problem, fear, ignorance and the lies of the anti-nuclear lobby.

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  • Extensive due diligence??? How about some details on Nuclear Waste treatment/disposal? The old barrel over the port side into the briney deep? What is the proper height of the tsunami wall? Fukashima plus 6 inches??

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  • Nuclear power is safer than any other major form of power generation by a very big margin. If the deaths at Chernobyl are eliminated - on the basis that it was a seriously obsolete reactor - equivalent to a model T Ford - then it is even safer.

    One of the major problems is that people believe that low levels of radiation is seriously dangerous when, in fact, levels of radiation 200 to 1000 times higher than the regulated level have proved to be harmless. For centuries people in Iran have lived with radiation levels 200 times higher than the regulated level. They are perfectly healthy.

    But for as long as the industry and the government reacts to every minor radiation problem as though a tiny bit of radiation was really dangerous, the public perception that it is dangerous will persist. The government and the industry need to re-educate the public.

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  • Nuclear energy is not worth the risks, the pollution, and the detrimental effects to DNA and genetics.

    Google this headline from ENENEWS to see what "nuclear radiation" does to humans:

    ‘Genetic passports’ for major population exposed to nuclear radiation? “It has deformed their genes, sorry it’s a bit of a bummer” — Twins attached by organs growing outside body, ’1-eyed cyclops’, babies with giant heads… “they respond to the people around them”

    Plus...nuclear power plants release radiation into the environment during their "normal" operations.

    Karl Grossman, in his book "Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power" says this:

    “There’s been new research documenting cancer and other health maladies in people who live near nuclear plants. Nuclear plants need not undergo an accident to kill. They emit “routine releases” of radioactive poisons including xenon, krypton and tritium because nuclear plants are not sealed...Now it is acknowledged that any amount of radioactivity can lead to illness and death. The Radiation and Public Health Project has documented rates of cancer significantly higher for distances of up to 40 miles around nuclear plants.”

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  • Can you provide any links to any peer-reviewed scientific research papers that support these statements?

  • Nuclear Energy can never be seen as a end game choice of electricity generation.
    I agree with Wes about due diligence with respect to disposal.
    What about giving all the money to EDF; a state owned company? why wasn't EDF privatised? Cos no one would insure a company with so many nuclear plants.
    Is there any insurance in the event of an accident; No. Who would pay; tax payers.
    900 staff; Not likely. More likely subcontracted out to French companies already in the business.
    Known decommissioning costs and safe disposal of radioactive waste; not known. PErhaps if it was all known to be disposed of on French soil then it might be seen as a lesser risk to Brits.
    On balance; say no to new nuclear. It is the wrong road to go down.

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  • The British nuclear energy sector was privatised. EDF is owned by the French state and operates the UK's nuclear power stations on a private contract. The issue of EDF's continued state ownership is probably as much to do with politics as anything.

  • Anonymous:

    Coal fired stations emit more radiation than nuclear stations. As does Grand Central station.

    If Karl Grossman is right, why are there people still living healthy lives in Ramsar in Iran?

    And why do the people living in radioactive apartment buildings in Taiwan have less cancer than the general public?

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  • At a guess, erecting a new play area for children probably carries more risk of harm to humans than any Nuclear Power station proposed in the UK. As for the radiation risk, the people of Cornwall live healthy lives in what in a Nuclear station would probably be a shut-down level of radiation from the Granite substrate.

    We must regain a sense of proportion and not allow scaremongers and tree-huggers to control our decisions.

    The UK should regain control of it's power needs and build as quickly as possible, using whatever fuel is cheapest or available, enough capacity to make the UK wholly independent for Electrical power. Only then can we effectively address other issues such as the 'greener' ones.

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