The 16-billion pound ($25.9 billion) project, which was agreed on Monday with France's EDF energy and a group of Chinese investors, aims to keep the lights on in Britain amid declining supplies of North Sea gas and rapidly escalating fuel costs.
"If people at home want to be able to keep watching the television, be able to turn the kettle on, and benefit from electricity, we have got to make these investments," Energy Secretary Ed Davey told the BBC. "It is essential to keep the lights on and to power British business."
That sounds decidedly apocalyptic, but it’s a theme picked up by other stories. Here’s The Telegraph:
During her reign [Queen Elizabeth’s], our atomic expertise, which promised a future of clean, green and affordable electricity, has been handed to foreign competitors on a plate, and Britain’s grid is now under such strain that 57 years later, we find ourselves relying on China and France to keep the lights on.
And in the same language, too, borrowed from Davey. The Telegraph story, by Michael Hanlon, is very withering about Britain’s loss of dominance in the nuclear sphere and ponders gloomily that a “communist superpower” should be doing this rather than the Brits themselves. (In another era, he would be griping about the French end of the deal.)
Here’s the outline of the deal, from The Guardian:
Britain is to embark on building its first nuclear power station for two decades on Monday as the coalition hands a multibillion subsidy to France's EDF with help from a state-owned Chinese firm.
The two planned pressurized water reactors at Hinkley Point C, Somerset, are the first to start construction in Europe since Japan's Fukushima disaster and the first in the UK since the Sizewell B power station came online in 1995.
The Guardian being The Guardian, the nuclear energy industry is a nest of asps hissing and spitting. It all could be so much easier:
The alternative to nuclear, made to appear unthinkable by the industry's lobbying, is in fact far from inconceivable. A huge effort to improve the UK's woeful energy efficiency is the first step. The UK government currently expects electricity demand to rise by 33-66% by 2050.
The second step is a genuine commitment to renewable energy, youthful technologies ripe for further cost reductions in stark contrast to nuclear. Even today, once you account for the much longer time for which nuclear is promised subsidies, offshore wind costs the same and it will fall.
I can’t really speak to the British industry’s lobbying efforts, but I do know that here, the industry considers itself part of a continuum that includes energy efficiency and renewable energy. if you want to be cynical about it, and why not?, you could say that there’s money in all of it. But if you want to be a little more idealistic, you could admit that it does not hurt to pursue a full range of options to answer to climate change issues and customer awareness of them. Environmentalists get a lot of mileage out of posing an adversarial relationship between energy generators, but that’s really to charge up the troops not a viable way of doing business.
The 60-year history of the nuclear industry is one unblemished by promises kept. From "too cheap to meter" to safe as houses, every pledge has been broken.
Vicious and pestilent promise breakers – the solution is so clear to some, the government must be blind.
Or perhaps it’s just trying to keep the lights on.