British nuclear build-out to continue at Sellafield – with a little wind power thrown in

Atomanlegget Sellafield kommer opp på EUs dagsorden.
Photo: BNFL

Publish date: October 28, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

A consortium of three international energy companies led by Scotland is paying £70 million for land adjacent to Sellafeild in Northwest England’s Cumbria to build a new nuclear power plant scheduled to begin construction by 2015, British media are reporting.

There are also talks of adding additional wind power to the UK’s electricity grid as part of a bid to lower the country’s emissions.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) said yesterday that it had sold the right to develop the land for a 3.6 gigawatt station to Scottish and Southern (SSE), Iberdrola and GDF Suez, the Telegraph reported. A spokesman for the NDA – which owns and is responsible for dismantling 11 of Britain’s oldest Cold War legacy nuclear plants, including Sellafield – confirmed the sale in a telephone interview with Bellona.

The NDA’s decision to sell the Sellafield land to Scottish and Southern, Iberdrola and GDF Suez to build a 3.6 Gigawatt nuclear power plant therefore seems to the Bellona Foundation somewhat ironic and counterproductive, as new nuclear power plants will compound much of England’s problems safely storing nuclear waste, running counter to the NDA’s purpose.

England, like every other country in the world that uses nuclear power, has yet to come up with a safe secure and long term method by which to store its nuclear waste – which is one of Bellona’s principle arguments against new nuclear power plants.

“We are not happy with these development, as they once again make it clear for us that there will be nuclear activities at Sellafield for a very long time to come,” said Bellona’s nuclear physicist and expert on Sellafield, Nils Bøhmer.

“These new activities, combined with the legacy nuclear waste and derelict facilities at Sellafiled will in the future still continue to be a risk for the environment, both for the local population and for the neighbouring countries,” he said.

The land sale in Sellafield constitutes the fourth such real estate sale for Britain’s nuclear build-out concluded by the NDA, the spokesman said.

British Parliamentarian and Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, who has been an ally with Bellona on forging a strong deal in the Copenhagen climate talks in December in an agreement that would obligate nations to cut their emissions spoke out in favour of the new nuclear build out at Sellafield.

“This sale is further proof that we’re giving industry the confidence to invest and that the UK is creating a successful low-carbon economy,” he said.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the money made off the sale will go toward the NDA’s £75bn clean-up operation of its 11 old plants, which is funded by taxpayers.

The Scottish-led SSE/Iberdrola/GDF group is the third new entrant to the UK nuclear industry after France’s EDF bought British Energy for £12.5bn in January, and a consortium of Germany’s RWE Npower and E.ON was successful in earlier NDA land auctions in April.

Work on the new Sellafield plant will start in 2015, if the consortium proves that the site is suitable and that it will use UK-based suppliers and create local jobs.

Scotland’s involvement in building nuclear power plants at its own doorstep are also ironic considering that the Scottish executive has banned the construction of new reactors in Scotland proper, which is already home to six ageing nuclear reactors.

But the UK’s "big six" energy suppliers – including the two Scottish companies – are desperate not to be frozen out of the new nuclear programme earmarked for England and Wales. They are preparing to invest billions in return for the rights to supply the reactors’ electricity to their customers, the Guardian reported.

While announcements on the new nuclear power plant at Sellafield were being made by the government and the British nuclear industry, the UK’s Centrica utility company announced it would push ahead with its giant £725 million wind farm near Skegness, off the coast of Lincolnshire.

The UK’s enormous potential for readily available alternative energies, including wind, as opposed to large nuclear power plants that will take decades to build, and compound the problems of climate change with problems of nuclear waste is another point of opposition Bellona has to new nuclear power in Britain.