The announcement that negotiations have concluded and a consortium headed by EDF is about to start work on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset has given the press a headache this morning. Nuclear is carbon neutral, but the Greens are opposed – how do the fossil fuel fans react? There will effectively be subsidies involved – but there is also national energy security.
Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station
What has resulted is plenty of bashing the dastardly garlic-crunching French and the Chinese (after all, this just happens to be a totalitarian dictatorship with a questionable human rights record), coupled with a lamentable lack of knowledge of the civil nuclear industry. And there is no finer example of this than at the Maily Telegraph, courtesy of Michael Hanlon.
“A new dawn for nuclear power?” is the headline, just to be on the safe side, and soon Hanlon makes his first mistake. Calder Hall, built in part of what is nowadays known as the Sellafield site, is called the “world’s first nuclear power station”. That’s not true: along with Chapel Cross, on the Solway Firth, it was not part of the civil programme, but had reactors tuned to produce plutonium.
In other words, Calder Hall’s primary purpose was military, and so it should be more correctly compared to similar installations such as the Savannah River Site in the eastern USA, whose reactors first went critical as early as 1953 – three years before Calder Hall. The first civil nuclear stations to open in the UK were Bradwell (in Essex) and Berkeley (Gloucestershire), both in 1962.
So much for Hanlon’s talk of “Britain’s nuclear pre-eminence”. And, as for “they also pioneered a host of technologies, from fast-breeders to advanced gas-cooled reactors”, the fast breeder could not be converted to a commercial proposition, and the AGR programme of seven stations included one horrendous dud (Dungeness B) and two less than totally successful ones (Hartlepool and Heysham 1).
Meanwhile, over at the Daily Mail, readers are told “Households face 35 YEARS of higher electricity bills to pay for new £15billion nuclear plant built by the French” in typical why-oh-why style. Then come the gaffes: Hinkley Point C is asserted to be “similar to Hinkley Point B”. Bullshit. The B station is an AGR and the new C station will be a twin Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR). That’s as in “totally different”.
Then comes a map headed “Where they’ll be built”. All eight prospective locations are also described as “existing sites”, which is misleading: Bradwell, Oldbury and Sellafield have all ceased generation and are now being decommissioned. Getting information about nuclear power in the UK is not difficult to do. That is what hacks should do as a matter of course.
But what has been written is sloppy and inaccurate. That’s not good enough.