The government has just stitched us up with a £5bn U-turn

Theresa May
Fréa Lockley

In a massive U-turn, the government has committed £5bn of taxpayers’ money for a stake in a new nuclear power plant in Wales. And it comes at a time when its investment in clean and renewable energy is at its lowest since 2008.

U-turn

Negotiations have started between the government and Hitachi over the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power plant on Anglesey.

On 4 June, business secretary Greg Clark told [paywall] MPs that “commercially sensitive” negotiations would begin with Hitachi, and said:

For this project the government will be considering direct investment alongside Hitachi and Japanese government agencies.

But as the Guardian reported, the move is:

a striking reversal of decades-long government policy ruling out direct investment in nuclear projects.

And there’s also another U-turn in play. As The Canary previously reported, concerns were raised recently that Theresa May had agreed to loan Hitachi $18.2bn (£13.4bn) for the project. However, at the time, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) denied such an agreement existed.

“Shiny green veneer”

In response to this news, Green MP Caroline Lucas raised further concerns. Speaking to HuffPost, Lucas said:

The government, behind its shiny green veneer, has overseen the funding stream for clean energy fall to its lowest levels since 2008, with further falls set to come.

Lucas raised valid questions and suggested that initial costs of £20bn are likely to rise. But she also pointed out a huge flaw in the premise of the entire project.

The proposed nuclear plant will not actually save customers money when compared to using renewable energy. As Lucas pointed out, public subsidies for this project are justified as a way bring down energy costs for consumers. But the agreed unit price for electricity from the Wylfa plant is “still a whopping £20 above the cost of offshore wind”.

And Lucas went further, explaining it’s “blindingly obvious that renewables are the future”. Because solar and wind power is far cheaper, as she explained:

New technology means that power from the sun, sea and wind, balanced with batteries and interconnection, are able to be the backbone of British energy in the future. Onshore wind – which the Government has all but banned – could have a strike price a whopping £37.50 lower than Wylfa’s.

“The wrong move at the wrong time”

Lucas called the Wylfa deal “the wrong move at the wrong time”. Not only is renewable energy cheaper, but it also has a positive environmental impact; whereas there are additional costs and dangers inherent in storing nuclear waste. As Lucas pointed out:

There is still no solution to the nuclear waste problem. It must be kept in incredibly secure conditions for thousands of years – and we know that the cost of cleaning up Sellafield alone… currently stands at £70billion.

There are further concerns over Wylfa, because:

The reactor technology that will be used in the Wylfa Newydd plant has a poor record on reliability and cost, and the company set to run the plant, Hitachi, has had two serious safety breaches in its nuclear developments, one of which resulted in a $2.7million fine in the United States

So it’s a stitch up on every level. This government has backtracked on its previous position in order to invest in a company with a poor safety record and an energy source that’s difficult to justify using.

It comes at a time when greater investment is desperately needed in renewable energy. Renewables benefit everyone. They make sense economically, and give us at least some chance of countering our current environmental destruction.

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Featured image via Annika Haas/Wikimedia

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