I’m on the select committee that scrutinises energy, and I’m determined to use that position to understand the incredibly complex issues around it, from generation, distribution, to household and commercial consumption. And, or course, these days we have household and commercial generation too. It’s also a massive Brexit issue because at times up to 40% of our energy consumption in the southeast comes through inter-connectors to the continent.
Hinkley Point C is controversial. It will be the biggest nuclear power station in our country, by far (it will provide 7% of our country’s electricity); it is fully funded by two foreign publicly owned companies, EDF from France and a Chinese company too, who are investing a staggering £92bn into the project; and it the deal struck by George Osborne as chancellor means that they will get more than double the current cost of energy for 35 years in return for the huge investment.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this are, and indeed about nuclear power in general compared to other forms of low carbon generation, the fact is that this station is being built and it’s being built now. I say this because a lot of people still seem to think it’s not started yet.
The construction site is vast. I’ve not seen anything like this since I toured the 2012 Olympic site what that was being build, and this is on a similar scale.
There are already almost three thousand workers on site. A massive ‘tsunami-proof’ wall has been completed, and the circular piece of concrete you can see in this picture is where one of the two reactors will one day sit.
After safety, Brexit was the top issue. The £92bn investment deal was signed before the referendum, and now the companies building the site have no guarantees at all from government that they will be able to use labour and scientific skills from the EU after Brexit, or transport nuclear engineering components and radioactive materials to and from the continent. This is why there’s so much talk about Euratom these days.
Just to give you an example. The people who shape the steel around which concrete is poorer are called ‘fixers’. They need 1,200 of them onsite, which is half of the fixers in the whole country. Let’s face it, considering what this concrete will be doing, we’re going to want to get it right. EDF already have an academy nearby to train fixers and other skills, which is a huge boon for the local area, but that might not be enough. If Brexit goes wrong, as it is looking, schemes like this will cost us dearly in delays and administrative burdens. Quite literally our lights could go out.
I also visited Hinckley Point B power station which has been generating 2% of our country’s power since 1976. Seeing this technology at work and experiencing first hand the safety precautions in operation was pretty heavy going. I even stood atop one of the nuclear reactors...after which I underwent three hand-held scans and two full body scans for radiation. I registered zero on a machine with four digits on it! Phew!
I learned a lot on this trip, and it will really help me hold government to account but also strive to get better policy on power going forward. Sometimes you just have to get on a train and see something, and this was definitely one of those times!
I hope you all have a great weekend ahead, Peter