Nuclear power warning for Brexit talks

Britain’s power supply could be in jeopardy if it loses access to nuclear fuels and expertise because of Brexit, the government is being warned. Critics say the Tories have no coherent plan for what comes after the Euratom treaty, which governs safety standards, cooperation, research and trade in atomic energy across the EU.

Cross-party MPs are warning that unless proper arrangements are made, Britain could be reduced to a “rule-taker”, forced to comply with European rules and standards without having any say in them. And the UK could end up running out of nuclear fuel for reactors that are relied upon heavily for electricity. “Decisive action must take place now,” says Justin Bowden from the GMB trade union.

Strike threat at Hinkley C – bonus said to be not enough for skilled workers

“Workers on EDF’s 18 billion pound Hinkley Point C nuclear project in southwest England could go on strike over bonus payments, two labour unions said on Thursday.

The GMB and Unite trade unions will hold a vote among 700 workers employed by the Bouygues-Laing O’Rourke (BYLOR) construction consortium appointed by EDF to build parts of Britain’s first new nuclear plant in decades.

The ballot is scheduled for May 2-5, the unions said.

“The bonus rate offered by BYLOR is insufficient to attract the quality of workers needed to ensure that the civil works phase of the 18 billion pound project is completed on time,” the unions said in a joint statement.

EDF Energy, the French utility’s British subsidiary, said that discussions with its contractor and trade union partners were ongoing.

“We are committed to a continuing dialogue on this issue,” said an EDF spokesman, also speaking on behalf of Bouygues and Laing O’Rourke.” …

Source: Reuters

Toshiba’s nuclear mistakes – a warning for the UK

“The roots of Toshiba’s admission this week that it has serious doubts over its “ability to continue as a going concern” can be found near two small US towns.

It is the four reactors being built for nuclear power stations outside Waynesboro, in Georgia, and Jenkinsville, South Carolina, by the company’s US subsidiary Westinghouse that have left the Japanese corporation facing an annual loss of £7.37bn.

Construction work on the units has run hugely over budget and over schedule, casting a shadow over two of the biggest new nuclear power station projects in the US for years.

Events came to a head last month when Westinghouse was forced to file for bankruptcy protection to limit Toshiba’s losses.

Experts said the delays and cost problems were due to America’s lack of recent experience in building atomic power plants.

“I don’t think it is necessarily because of an inherent issue of US skills but rather the lack of practice,” said Richard Nephew, a professor at the Centre on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University. “There simply have not been as many new reactor builds in the US and this has reduced the overall pool of skilled labor, no question.”

The absence of a mass production supply chain, due to the small number of the Westinghouse-designed reactors being built, played a part too, he added. Regulatory issues had also delayed construction. …

Richard Morningstar, chairman of the Global Energy Centre at the international affairs thinktank Atlantic Council, said: “What is happening to Westinghouse and Toshiba only emphasises the need to double down on research on new, safe, nuclear technologies, such as small modular reactors. If we do not do so in the US, leadership will be ceded to other countries.” …

One such aspiring atomic leader is the UK, where the government wants to build a new generation of nuclear power stations to help satisfy the country’s power needs for decades to come.

But there are obvious parallels between the two countries on the issues of recent experience and supply chains. The UK has not completed a new nuclear power station since Sizewell B on the Suffolk coast started generating power in 1995.

EDF, the French state-owned company which has started pouring concrete at Hinkley Point in Somerset, where it plans to have two reactors operational by 2025, maintains it has had plenty of recent practice.

The EPR reactor design for Hinkley is the same as that for the reactors it is building in Finland, and at Flamanville, in France, though both of those are running late and over budget.

The other new nuclear projects proposed around the UK, all by foreign companies, look less certain and all are still years from construction starting in earnest.

Toshiba said this week it would consider selling its shares in the consortium behind another plant planned at Moorside, in Cumbria, which would utilise three of the same AP1000 Westinghouse reactors being built for the two crisis-hit US plants.

The South Korean power company Kepco last month expressed an interest in buying into the project, and the business secretary , Greg Clark, went to South Korea last week for talks on collaboration on nuclear power. …

Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said: “The big moral of the story is what on earth we are doing as a country, leaving our fundamental energy requirements to foreign companies or foreign governments?”

While the government has argued that it has plans in place to keep the lights on if new nuclear projects do not materialise, others said the deepening crisis at Toshiba this week showed the need for ministers to consider a new energy policy.

“It’s time to come up with a new plan A,” said Paul Dorfman, of the Energy Institute, at University College London, who believes the Moorside project is dead. “It’s time for a viable strategy that talks about grid upgrades, solar, energy efficiency, and energy management.”

A report published on Thursday highlighted another alternative: a U-turn on the Conservative party’s manifesto commitment to block new onshore windfarms. Analysis for the trade body Scottish Renewables suggested wind turbines on land had become so cheap they could be built for little or no subsidy, compared to the lucrative contract awarded to EDF for Hinkley.

But the prospect of a rethink by the government on wind power looks about as likely as new nuclear power stations being built on time.”

“Laptop with plans for UK’s new £18bn nuclear plant stolen from contractor’s car in security blunder”

“A LAPTOP with plans for the UK’s flagship new nuclear plant was stolen from a dozy contractor’s car in a huge security blunder.

He left the computer, packed with details about the £18billion Hinkley Point C reactor, on show in his motor on Wednesday night and thieves helped themselves.

The worker only realised it was missing the next morning and alerted the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the armed force that guards nuclear sites. Police launched an investigation but last night the £350 Acer laptop and a £500 Samsung tablet nicked with it were still missing.

Officials at the plant, mainly funded by French energy giants EDF, insist there is no evidence either device holds “nuclear sensitive information”.

But only last Sunday, Energy Minister Jesse Norman warned nuclear chiefs to “remain resilient” amid fears ISIS was targeting their power stations. …”

“French government urges EDF to close aging nuclear plant as decision looms”

These are the people (with the Chinese) that we are trusting with Hinkley C!

French Energy Minister Segolene Royal warned EDF’s board on Wednesday against trying to prevent the closure of France’s oldest nuclear plant, as a long-running conflict between the state-controlled utility and the government comes to a head.

EDF has scheduled a board meeting on Thursday to decide the fate of the 1,800 megawatt Fessenheim plant near the German border. Its closure was an election promise of outgoing President Francois Hollande in 2012, but the company has so far managed to put off a final decision.

Unions oppose the closure, saying it would cause job losses and France’s hardline CGT trade union urged its members to picket EDF’s headquarters during Thursday’s meeting to keep pressure on the board members.

“The board is going to have a debate and normally EDF’s chairman should give me a request (afterwards) to close Fessenheim as planned,” Royal said on CNEWS.

Environmental groups have long suspected EDF of playing for time, seeking to prevent the closure from becoming irreversible before the end of Hollande’s presidency next month.

EDF’s management has argued that safety issues would not be a reason to close the plant since the nuclear watchdog deemed it safe after the utility invested hundreds of millions of euros to reinforce security following the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Fessenheim’s two 900-megawatt reactors each bring EDF about 200 million euros ($213 million) in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) per year.

The CGT union called on workers’ representatives on the EDF board to oppose the plant’s closure, saying it would be an economic and industrial waste.

“The Fessenheim plant is safe, and it is recognized as such by the Nuclear Safety Authority,” CGT said in a statement, adding that the plant contributes to French energy security.

France, a major electricity exporter in Europe, depends on its 58 nuclear reactors for more than 75 percent of its electricity supply.

“I’m warning the board members who are tempted to listen to inexact information and could harm the company’s interests,” Royal said.

EDF and the government have reached a 490 million euro compensation agreement covering costs associated with the closure.

The company also received some guarantees that could allow it to shut down the reactor by end-2018, when it starts production at its new generation EPR reactor under construction in Flamanville in northern France.”

“Energy projects including Hinkley Point threatened by Brexit, experts warn”

Vital energy projects including the £18bn Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant and interconnectors used to import cheap electricity from Europe are under threat due to Brexit, energy experts have warned.

They said the projects, which are key to efforts to keep the UK’s lights on, could be at risk if the energy sector is denied entry to Europe’s internal energy market.

That looks increasingly likely, after the European parliament passed a resolution on Wednesday opposing “piecemeal or sectoral provisions” for individual UK industries.

Speaking at an event organised by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, experts said plans by French power firm EDF to build two new reactors at Hinkley Point C could be affected.

Antony Froggatt, senior research fellow at Chatham House, said EDF was already concerned that Brexit will make it harder to import skilled EU nationals to build Hinkley, which is slated to provide 7% of UK electricity.

“I was at a conference recently where EDF were saying their main concern about skills was specialised steel fitters for the construction of Hinkley,” he said.

“They said there were not enough in the country to build Hinkley and therefore this is the main area that they’re concerned about.”

He added that the staff shortage could be exacerbated by the building of the HS2 high-speed rail link, which will be competing with Hinkley to attract steel fitters.

EDF did not return requests for comment.

Froggatt and his fellow panellists at the ECIU event also raised concerns about the impact on plans for interconnectors, wires connecting the UK with the European electricity network.

Interconnectors are considered increasingly important as Britain turns to renewable energy, because they allow electricity to be imported to make up for shortfalls when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

Plans are in place to build 14GW of interconnectors between the UK and countries including Norway, France, Belgium and Iceland.

But building them could prove less attractive to investors if the UK cannot remain part of Europe’s internal energy market.

This is because the agreement allows electricity to be automatically traded on a short-term “intra-day” basis, improving efficiency and making it more lucrative to build interconnectors. …”

Irregularities at French firm manufacturing Hinkley C components

“Inspectors find safety irregularities at Creusot nuclear forge in France.

Evidence of doctored paperwork found at Areva-owned forge, which has made parts for Hinkley Point.

An international team of inspectors has found evidence of doctored paperwork and other failings at a forge in France that makes parts for nuclear power stations around the world.

The UK nuclear regulator said the safety culture at the site, which has produced forgings for British plants including Sizewell B and the planned new reactors at Hinkley Point, fell short of expectations.

Last December regulators from the UK, US, China, Finland and Canada visited the Creusot forge run by the French state-owned nuclear builder Areva, to address their concerns after the country’s regulator ASN discovered quality-control problems and falsification of records in 2014.

A report of the inspection by the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), obtained via a freedom of information request, concluded the improvement measures ordered by ASN were not yet effective.

The visit uncovered an example of an employee at the forge “amending a manufacturing record in an uncontrolled manner” as recently as September 2016, two years after similar problems were uncovered. The doctoring went undetected by Areva’s on-site quality control, Areva’s independent third-party body and inspectors from EDF.

The international inspectors also discovered the use of correctional fluid – like Tipp-Ex – at the forge’s operational control room. Correctional fluid is banned at the site, where a manager told the inspection team she regularly searched workstations for it.

Experts said the report was worrying and would damage Areva. Paul Dorfman of the Energy Institute at University College London, who obtained the document, said: “Given nuclear regulation is all about safety, this kind of language is extraordinarily damaging coming, as it does, from the UK nuclear regulator.”

Areva is already suffering serious financial problems. The company recently reported a €665m (£575m) net loss for 2016, though that is smaller than the €2bn net loss it posted in 2015.

The ONR said there was a greater quality control presence “on the shop floor” of the Creusot, and much of the top management had been replaced since ASN told it to improve. But it said the international team of inspectors “were not confident that the improvement programmes and associated remedial actions … were sufficiently resourced, prioritised and integrated in order to bring about sustained improvements in manufacturing performance and nuclear safety culture”.

The report said the UK regulator should reflect on whether EDF’s oversight of Areva was up to scratch, given it is a key supplier to the Hinkley Point C power station that EDF is building in Somerset.

The ONR told the Guardian that since the visit to Creusot it had put in place plans to ensure any forgings destined for UK reactors, including Hinkley, met UK standards.

A spokeswoman said: “Since this multinational inspection, ONR has developed its intervention plans to ensure that the licensee has in place and implements adequate management and assurance arrangements to clearly demonstrate that all components are manufactured to the required standards.

“These plans will include a series of targeted inspections and other assessments of both the licensee and the supply chain, specification of appropriate regulatory hold-points, and a targeted regulatory review at an appropriate time in the next year to assess the progress and performance of both the licensees oversight and assurance activities and the expected improvements within the supply chain.”