I have not heard one word (even in acknowledgement) from the Energy Island Team on Anglesey, since first emailing them two weeks ago. Actually I have not heard one word from anyone living in Wales in the last two weeks, other than my sister who lives in mid-Wales.
I am beginning to think that the political leaders of Wales actually believe that the recently renamed Wylfa Newydd
can actually be built and commissioned by 2025, without having any sort of intervening 10 year plan put in place, to maintain nuclear skills. Nuclear workers may just choose to leave the industry following the full closure of the existing Wylfa Magnox Reactors in 2014 or 2015.
Even if thy choose to stay on for decommissioning work their existing skills sets may not be needed or utilised. The NDA themselves admit that future decommissioning work will become more automated and more productive, which will mean less highly trained nuclear staff needed for this decommissioning work over the next 10 years. In any case decommissioning work is not necessarily the best training path for the skilled engineers and technicians needed to operate and maintain a nuclear power plant, so even if new staff get taken on for this work they will not necessarily have the right training for operating a working nuclear power station. 10 years is a long time given the current age distribution of the existing nuclear trained workforce in the UK. [Remember according to government plans roughly four nuclear stations will be starting up at roughly the same time in the mid 2020's, spiriting highly trained and trained workers out of the aether to work in them no doubt.]
Therefore given that I have had absolutely no response from anyone in Wales to my open call for a conversation on this important matter, in spite of the fact that some sort of alternative, perhaps equally expensive, plan will be needed to train the new engineers and technicians. [Perhaps using a mixture of academic theory, computer simulations and nuclear plant mock-ups to do the training instead.] I am not saying that this won't work, it's just that the costs of it must be owned up to, when comparing that plan with my plan].
We shall have to wait and see I suppose, until the Wylfa Stakeholder meeting on 23 January 2014.
My current analysis is...
- Given that the Thatcher Government planned to role out a fleet of 10 new PWR nuclear power stations, including ones called Hinkley Point C and one called Wylfa B, and then only managed to build one at Sizewell B because the plants were not an economically viable proposition.
- Given that the new Generation III plants are even less economically viable that the PWR's and in many respects are much more complex.
- Given that under current plans there is no viable plan to maintain a trained and experienced workforce to run them.
- Given that the EU could rule the subsidy system for new nuclear as illegal under EU state aid rules.
- Given that there is a General Election in less than 2 years time, where the cost of energy will be one of the key election campaign issues.
- Given that new Generation III reactors currently being built in Europe are over budget, with build programmes running years behind schedule (EPR's being built at Olkiluoto and Flamanville), there is absolutely no chance that they can be built without huge public subsidy being applied.
- Given that there is no publicly available evidence that "Nuclear Lessons Learned" from past mistakes, will not be unlearned at the first available opportunity; having to be re-learned in preparation for the next project.
- Given that the old and unhealthy culture of secrecy, combined with incompetence (and on occasion lies and deceit) has not yet been fully purged from the NDA and Sellafield management teams.
- Given that the huge programme of PLEX work needed in France, Ukraine, to a lesser extent in the UK and Russia, may suck in large numbers of nuclear trained staff, particularly in the critical, and resource constrained, smaller nuclear supply chain companies.
According to BusinessWire
"In Europe, the major PLEX markets between 2013 and 2025 are France, Ukraine, the UK and Russia, with market values of $5.2 billion, $3.4 billion, $2.6 billion and $2 billion. Previously, numerous extensions were planned in Europe, but after the Fukushima disaster some countries chose to discontinue their PLEX plans and instead proceed towards developing a nuclear-free energy mix."
- Given that industrial supply chain companies (with aging workforces and other resource constraints) will see nuclear PLEX, decommissioning and waste work as bringing in a more predictable and certain cash flow, and a better investment bet overall, compared with the promised new build work that may never arrive. Existing nuclear supply chain companies may want to prioritise their best people and time into delivering on the nuclear PLEX, decommissioning and waste projects for at least another 10 years.
Incidentally none of the nuclear industry people I meet in private disagree radically with any of what I say above. They just choose for their own reasons not to publicly draw attention to the underlying resource issues, and the other difficulties the new Generation III reactor build program faces.
I personally think there is a very high chance that none of the new Generation III nuclear reactors proposed for the UK will be completed and licensed for operation. There is a long history in the nuclear industry, of nuclear plant starts that never get completed; due to cost escalation problems or changing economic circumstance or a changing regulatory environment. If we want to maintain a nuclear industry in this country, we will have to do things a different way, my way perhaps, if no one can think of any better way.
I also think if EDF/Areva takes on too much work some of the balls it is juggling will drop. Gen III build work may suffer or PLEX work or both. There will inevitably be an increased chance of delays or nuclear accidents in France and elsewhere, as the top heavy age distribution in the nuclear industry begins to bite and experienced staff start leaving in large numbers.
If Welsh politicians decide to ignore my ideas, what is the plan B for England...for example involving the Hartlepool AGR site.
Such a plan B would inevitably be much delayed compared with my Wylfa plan. At the moment the Hartlepool AGR is due to close in 2019, but EDF might decide to apply for a licence extension to run the plant until 2023, like some of the other AGR's it runs. In the short term EDF will want to keep up the hard sell up for the time being in regards to the ridiculously expensive new Gen III EPR reactors it wants to build in the UK; despite the fact this is not in their long term strategic interests.
I don't a plan B will work unless the Hartlepool AGR is nationalised to meet the needs of the programme prior to 2019.