Plans to build new nuclear reactors adjacent to Sellafield have suffered a major and possibly terminal setback with the announcement that Spanish energy giant Iberdrola is to pull out of the NuGeneration (NuGen) consortium which planned to develop up to 3.6 GW of nuclear power at the new station. Price and construction costs are believed to be behind the decision.
The NuGen consortium, formed in 2009 and comprised of GDF Suez (37.5%), Iberdrola (37.5% and Southern & Scottish Electricity SSE (25%), had secured the rights to purchase a 470-acre greenfield site adjacent to Sellafield owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). Paying £19.5M up front, a further £50.5M was to be paid by NuGen over the following 6 years, with the choice of reactor type expected to be made by the end of 2013 and a final investment decision planned for around 2015.
Ibderola’s withdrawal – from a project that many observers considered to be doomed from the start because of its remote location from where power was actually needed in the UK, follows the similar withdrawal by SSE’s in September 2011 with the announcement that it wanted to concentrate on renewable energies which it considered to be ‘more suited to the strength of the company’. As the sole remaining member of the NuGen consortium – which in 2010 boasted that ‘its greatest strength was that it can draw upon the experience, resources and skills of three well established and respected energy companies’ – GDF Suez commitment to the project must now also look highly questionable given that just 3 months ago the French multinational was reported as ‘expecting to significantly trim its 47-year old nuclear business’ (Reuters 29.6.12). Reporting Iberdrola’s withdrawal today, the Sunday Times suggests that GDF is unlikely to go ahead with the project on its own.
CORE’s spokesman Martin Forwood said today:
“As with the rest of the UK’s so-called nuclear renaissance plans, new build at Sellafield looks set to hit the buffers. The desertion of two major players from the NuGen consortium speaks volumes about the wretched economics of nuclear power and its role in our energy mix. This will serve as a wake-up call to Government and those fanatics and fantasists behind West Cumbria’s Energy Coast plans that pursuing the nuclear option is a lost cause”.
Poor economics and its remote location apart, NuGen’s plans for its Moorside power station (crossword buffs have seized on the more appropriate Doomrise anagram) have already hit problems – with a long delay to its initial geological borehole test programme after the site’s mineral rights owner Lord Egremont’s demanded that NuGen purchased the rights from him. The requirement for the costly construction of a new grid connection in West Cumbria to service the proposed reactors continues to be a highly contentious issue with its threat to National Park land, and NuGen has yet to divulge how it would overcome the difficulty of installing and running the necessary cooling water system in the Irish Sea without disturbing the banks of highly radioactive sediments that lurk in the coastal waters around Sellafield.