Austria files legal complaint against Hinckley Point C

Posted: July 6, 2015 by Andrew in Energy

The list of problems facing the UK’s energy infrastructure has just got even longer as Austria puts a spanner in the works.

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The Guardian reports:

Austria has filed a legal challenge at the European court of justice against EU-granted state subsidies for a new nuclear power plant in Britain, government officials have said.

“Subsidies are there to support modern technologies that lie in the general interest of all EU member states. This is not the case with nuclear power,” the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, said.

The country argues that the Hinkley Point C project is in breach of European law and risks distorting the energy market.

The announcement came days after an alliance of 10 German and Austrian energy companies filed a legal challenge at the ECJ against Hinkley Point.

Under the disputed deal, Britain would help fund the construction of two reactors in south-west England. As part of the agreement, the British government would guarantee an elevated 35-year fixed electricity rate to EDF, the French energy group, which would be in charge of the building the plant.

But Austria’s environment minister, Andrä Rupprechter, said nuclear energy was no longer able to survive economically and should “not be artificially resuscitated through state subsidies”. “Instead of funding unsafe and costly energy forms that are outdated, we have to support Europe’s energy turnaround with the expansion of renewable energies,” he said.

Initially forecast to cost £16bn, EU officials estimate the project will require £24.5bn. Despite opposition from activists and several member states, the European commission approved the project in October after Britain modified funding plans for the deal.

“We are confident that the European commission’s state aid decision on Hinkley Point C is legally robust,” a spokeswoman for Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change said last week.

Opponents see Hinkley Point as an unnecessary show of support for nuclear energy when the use of renewables, such as wind and solar power, is beginning to take hold.

But the EU commission insists the choice of energy source, no matter how controversial, is strictly up to member states. EU member Austria has no nuclear power stations.

Some background to the legal challenge against the huge subsidy, currently running at £92.50 per megawatt hour.

This trouble is just another snag to hit the reactor design. The Ecologist reports on safety critical fabrication defects and the cancellation of reactors as other power stations using the same EPR designs have run into massive cost overruns.

The government looks intent on the continuation of the project despite the Austrian problem, simply hoping it will go away. As this challenge may take eight years to pass through the courts, there is no other option if the lights are to be kept on, as we rush head first into the requirements of the Climate Change Act. As the Ecologist reports however, if the reactor design is a lemon, this country’s energy policy may come crashing down around the Government’s ears.

Comments
  1. Apparently EDF and the UK Govt are in “discussions” over liabilty. In other words, who picks up the bill if they go ahead and it all goes tits up!

    I can’t see how EDF will proceed with the risk of them losing billions if the challenge is successful, but how can the govt cover the costs without it being labelled a “subsidy” again?

    It may be that the taxpayer will end up buying Hinkley off EDF in the event.

    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/edf-uk-in-liability-talks/

  2. J Martin says:

    We should be putting newer nuclear technology in, not this old fashioned nuclear PWR. A Candu reactor capable of utilising some Thorium, for instance. We should be devolping fast breeders and Thorium based designs that can extract the energy from our 400 year supply of spent nuclear fuel. Not building old fashioned reactors that add to the spent nuclear fuel problem.

    Better to spend money on development of new nuclear technology than subsidise out of date nuclear technology.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Agree with J Martin. This is a difficult-to-build design with seemingly endless technical problems in construction. It’s going to cost a fortune – why bother?

    ‘Finland cancels Olkiluoto 4 nuclear reactor – is the EPR finished?’
    http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2859924/finland_cancels_olkiluoto_4_nuclear_reactor_is_the_epr_finished.html

    ‘This week Finland cancelled its option for a second European Pressurised Reactor as the existing EPR project sinks into an abyss of cost over-runs, delays and litigation, writes Jim Green. It now looks like the EPR is a failed technology and its owner, French nuclear giant Areva, is fast running out of both money and orders as its ‘hot prospects’ evaporate.’ [bold added]

    Austria could be doing us a big favour here. Nobody else is buying this design.

  4. dikstr says:

    “But Austria’s environment minister, Andrä Rupprechter, said nuclear energy was no longer able to survive economically and should “not be artificially resuscitated through state subsidies”. “Instead of funding unsafe and costly energy forms that are outdated, we have to support Europe’s energy turnaround with the expansion of renewable energies,” he said.”

    What nonsense – nuclear is far more likely to be cost effective than solar and wind.

    But transitioning to renewable energy (which currently provides 3% of the world’s energy) is a fools errand in any case because CO2-anthropogenic global warming has proved to be a hoax.

  5. ivan says:

    In many ways this is a blessing in disguise. There was no way that the government should have agreed to the building of an old, obsolete EPR power plant. If EDF wanted to get rid of some of their old stock they should be paying the government to allow them to build it, not the other way round.

    This should, hopefully, allow the government, although DECC are firmly in the pocket of EDF, to look at some of the Chinese thorium reactor designs or even looking up the British designs of the late 60s to early 70s. In fact the Winfrith plant was only completely shut down a few years ago.

  6. M Simon says:

    The subsidy – does seem steep.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    ““Subsidies are there to support modern technologies that lie in the general interest of all EU member states. This is not the case with nuclear power,” the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, said.

    The country argues that the Hinkley Point C project is in breach of European law and risks distorting the energy market.”

    Um… then they ought not subsidize solar or wind…

    I’ll third the position of J. Martin and Oldbrew. The CANDU works great, can eat all kinds of fuel from Uranium to MOX (mixed oxides with recycle of nuclear bomb cores), to Thorium and more. Well proven and superior design. Only thing “wrong” with it is that the USA doesn’t like it as you can make “bomb stuff” using it.

    As Britain is already a nuclear nation, I don’t see the problem… and it is no longer a secret that low residency fuel in a CANDU is a path to SNM (Special Nuclear Material i.e. “boom stuff”) as India has already demonstrated it and Pakistan knows it, so have shared it with Iran and Iraq.

    Better to build CANDU by the dozen.

    Though, frankly, any nuke is better than bird / bat dicers and solar boondoggles…

  8. The CANDU design is not one being studied by the ONR under its GDA (Generic Design Assessment). The only designs being considered (since the EPR GDA was completed) are the AP1000 and the ABWR. Since the whole process takes many years, talk of the CANDU design (the ACR1000) in the UK is irrelevant. The ACR1000 was ruled out at the end of 2008.

    See http://www.onr.org.uk/new-reactors/assessment.htm and http://www.onr.org.uk/new-reactors/timeline.htm for the timelines.

  9. I agree that the EPR dinosaur design should not go ahead in the UK. Better to get on with the AP1000 and ABWR at a more realistic price.

  10. oldbrew says:

    Looks like a case of NO CANDU😉

    I’ll get my coat then.

    Update – World Nuclear Association rebuts Austria’s arguments and quotes its stated motives:

    “This is a further important step in our anti-nuclear policy, whose long-term objective is a nuclear-free Europe.”
    He went on to say: “This action is not only to suspend the aid, but also as a deterrent to investors, not only in Britain but throughout Europe”
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/Press-and-Events/Briefings/Hinkley-Point-C-and-the-Austrian-government-challenge/

  11. Fanakapan says:

    Get the Fracking going and it all becomes moot for a century at least🙂

    As stated above this could be a disguised blessing.

  12. oldbrew says:

    I think we knew about this weeks ago but now the BBC has caught up.

    ‘A weakness has been discovered in a French nuclear reactor of the type set to be built at Hinkley in the UK.

    France’s nuclear safety regulator told the BBC the flaw in the steel housing the reactor core at the nuclear plant being built in Normandy is “serious”.’

    “It is a serious anomaly affecting a crucial component of the nuclear power plant,” said Pierre-Franck Chevet, President of the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN).

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-33469774

    Austria could be saving Britain from a hugely expensive turkey.

  13. oldbrew says:

    Critics of Hinkley Point are getting louder. Of course they may have an axe to grind, but it’s an easy target.
    Nearly everything about it looks unconvincing from the cost onwards.

    ‘Peter Atherton, energy analyst at investment bank Jefferies, told The Guardian that for the same price as Hinkley Point, which will provide 3,200 megawatts of capacity, almost 50,000 megawatts of gas-fired power capacity could be built – enough to “effectively replace the entire thermal generation fleet in the UK”. ‘
    http://www.thegwpf.com/fresh-doubts-over-hinkley-point-nuclear-plant/

  14. M Simon says:

    and it is no longer a secret that low residency fuel in a CANDU is a path to SNM

    Low residency for useful explosive material was well known in the 60s.

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