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.”

What SHOULD super-Mayors (and LEPs) be doing?

This is what a think tank believes Mayors (and by extension Local Enterprise Partnerships) SHOULD be tackling.

Can anyone see any of these issues being given attention in our Devon and Somerset super-mayoral area?

… Mayors are due to be elected in May in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Tees Valley, Liverpool City Region, Cambridgeshire/ Peterborough and West of England, the latter an area based around Bristol.

The IPPR said its evidence base showed mayors should deliver inclusive growth by using their transport policy to prioritise poor neighbourhoods, establishing development corporations and championing the living wage and higher employment standards.

They could improve infrastructure by integrating land use planning and working with central government on housing investment and seek to embed health in all public policy.

The IPPR also urged mayors to set up companies to pilot ‘invest-to-save’ models in employment support, and to collaborate with councils to tackle homelessness….”

“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. …”

“Greater Exeter Strategic Plan”: are we already shafted?

Time is running out to comment on the “Greater Exeter Strategic Plan” initial consultation on “Issues”. Comments must be in by

10 April 2017

and the document is here:

and the full (12 page) document is here:

Owl thinks that there is precious little in the document that points either to a strategy or a plan! There are, however, many issues not covered such as:

– inequality ( how are the “just managing”, the “barely managing” and the “not managing at all going to access Greater Exeter’s resources (housing, transport, infrastructure, environment, health care, education) none of which is geared to them – only to the “managing very nicely thank you and ready to trade up to a bigger property or luxury retirement village” group

– the effect of Brexit, labour and skills shortages on the much-vaunted “economic growth”

– landbanking and housing supply – how they undermine all strategic planning projects

Owl also thinks this “plan” is shutting the door well after several horses have bolted, as already in the pipeline are massive developments planned to circle the city:

– west of Exeter: the 5,000-plus houses planned for “Culm Village” (Mid Devon)
– north/east of Exeter: the more than doubling in size of Cranbrook (East Devon) and the connected developments at Tithebarn Green, Pinn Brook Pinhoe and Monkerton (East Devon and Exeter City)
– south of Exeter: the massive development of Alphington and similar plans for doubling the size of Newton Abbott
– not to mention city developments such as St James’s Park and the thousands of student units in the city centre
– Local Enterprise Partnership plans to build extra houses just about everywhere else

Can anyone tell Owl which bits of “Greater Exeter” are left to consult on?

Public ‘not excited by devolution’ says firm of consultants

Owl says: They missed the main point: we have sussed out that finance and decisions are being moved from elected, accountable local authorities to groups of unelected and unaccountable, greedy (and sometimes shady) business people. But then again this is a report from a consultancy firm – which probably is getting, or hopes for, los of business from Local Enterprise Partnerships!

“The public is becoming increasingly disengaged with devolution despite its political priority for the government, research from consultancy firm GK Strategy has found.

A state-of-the-nation report on devolution in England found that whilst the agenda continues to be a political priority for the government, the prospect of further powers and accountability being shifted to a local level has failed to capture the public’s attention.

Yesterday’s report states “devolution has so far failed to win over the hearts and minds of people” because of a consistent reluctance by Whitehall to relinquish control over public spending.

Researchers explain that where local authorities do have greater control, they are working with smaller budgets and having to do more with less.

The perception that devolution is “merely passing the buck” of spending cuts to local authorities may be another reason why the concept has failed to capture public interest. …

… According to the researchers, there are two likely reasons for the level of disengagement with the concept of devolution, both of which are closely associated with the specific roles of elected mayors.

Firstly, the two largest English cities outside of London – Manchester and Birmingham – both voted against having an elected mayor less than five years ago in a referendum in each city.

Secondly, the public lacks a clear understanding over the role of the mayor in relation to the devolution process and the elected councils.

Chief executive of GK Strategy, Emily Wallace, said: “Our research clearly shows that whilst devolution in England has been a project of successive UK governments and been broadly supported by all major parties, it has failed to capture people’s interest in the way other issues have.

“A number of factors lie behind this, but a common view is that devolution in England has been delegation of blame at a time of public spending consolidation, rather than delegation of power and responsibility.”

“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.”