Corporate and political challenges facing the UK's nuclear industry must not be allowed to derail new build projects, the GMB trade union said today. The government must step in, GMB said, to ensure NuGeneration's project to build a nuclear power plant at Moorside in West Cumbria remains on track despite the financial difficulties faced by its majority owner.
NuGen, which is 60% owned by Japan's Toshiba and 40% by France's Engie, plans to build a plant of up to 3.8 GWe gross capacity using AP1000 nuclear reactor technology provided by Westinghouse.
Toshiba Corp - which owns Westinghouse - has said it will review its nuclear reactor construction business outside of Japan. The company's president and CEO Satoshi Tsunakawa said last week: "We focused on the nuclear business among all of our energy businesses, but this will change. This will entail a review of our overseas (nuclear) business." Toshiba's domestic nuclear business would focus on maintenance, repairs and decommissioning of reactors, he said.
The Japanese firm said in December it may have to write off "several billion" dollars because of Westinghouse's purchase of CB&I Stone & Webster - a US construction firm that specializes in nuclear power projects. The company said it needs to "determine the value" of the possible Westinghouse loss and the impact on Toshiba's financial forecast for 2016 announced in November.
GMB said today "relying on foreign money" to build UK infrastructure is "always fraught with risks".
"For several years, GMB has stated that the UK government cannot outsource responsibility for building nuclear power stations to foreign governments and companies," it said. "The remit of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority should be changed to the Nuclear Development Authority and charged with ensuring that the fleet of new nuclear power stations are brought on stream to replace the coal-fired and nuclear stations being decommissioned."
Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary for Energy, said in the same statement, "It looks increasingly like bad business investments may have busted Toshiba's role in a new nuclear facility at Moorside in Cumbria. The time is now right for the UK government to step up to the plate and fill any funding gaps to ensure this vital piece of infrastructure remains on track."
Bowden added: "Britain desperately needs the security of supply that nuclear brings if we are to keep the lights on and the economy running over the coming years. Relying on foreign money to build our infrastructure is always fraught with risks, the sensible thing is for the government to step in and guarantee the funding, this will keep Moorside on track and push down the price we will all have to pay for the electricity it will produce."
NuGen is one of two privately backed new build project developers in the UK. The other, Horizon Nuclear Power, is the UK subsidiary of Japan's Hitachi which plans to deploy the UK ABWR (Advanced Boiling Water Reactor) at two sites - Wylfa Newydd, which is on the Isle of Anglesey, and Oldbury-on-Severn, in South Gloucestershire.
GMB said in a separate statement the UK must stay in the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) "until a viable alternative can be found which protects Britain's nuclear interests".
The government last week published a bill that would empower the prime minister to leave both the European Union and Euratom. Parliament is currently debating the bill.
The trade union said leaving Euratom threatened the UK's entire nuclear industry, "including severely delaying" EDF and China General Nuclear's project to build the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset. The plant will feature two Areva-designed EPRs at 1650 MWe each.
The 1957 Euratom Treaty governs the peaceful use of nuclear energy within the EU. The Euratom Community is a separate legal entity from the EU, but it is governed by the bloc's institutions.
Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis told the House of Commons on 31 January the bill makes clear that in invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the European Union, the UK will also be leaving Euratom. Davis said this is because, although Euratom was established in a treaty separate to the EU agreements and treaties, it uses the same institutions as the European Union, including the European Court of Justice.
Prime Minister Theresa May has stated her government will begin the formal process of quitting the EU by the end of March.
GMB's Bowden said there is no need to leave Euratom "just because of Article 50".
"It would be sensible to delay any changes to our membership of Euratom until arrangements are agreed to replace our membership with Euratom, that guarantee UK nuclear interests are protected to the benefit of everyone in the country. Britain must keep its powder dry until a replacement is in place that benefits the whole country," he said.
"Theresa May's paranoia over Supreme Court influence in UK affairs is clouding her judgement over the much more important matter of safeguarding Britain’s nuclear industry," he added.
The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) bill passed a vote in the House of Commons last night by 498-114 votes, a majority of 384. The bill is due to clear the Commons on 8 February and then be put before the House of Lords.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News