Can’t afford to get it wrong about argument for Hinkley Point C

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Lesley Riddoch’s views on nuclear power and Hinkley Point C in particular (“It’s time to plan a future without oil”, Perspective, 14 December) are very confused and inaccurate.

• A Chinese company is not exactly “funding” Hinkley Point C, it is taking a one third stake in the construction cost. The remaining stake is with the owner of the site, Électricité de France (EDF), which, incidentally, operated all the other civil nuclear power stations in the UK. “Home-grown investors” have not eschewed investment in the project; they have had no opportunity to do so. Even shares in EDF are almost entirely owned by the French government.

• The idea that some “hidden capabilities” will be built into the station’s software is quite fanciful and ridiculous. Nor is it true that the UK government is subsidising nuclear power. The high “strike price” for power from Hinkley Point C is due to the risk the developer is taking with a new one-off design.

• The claim that nuclear power is “more expensive than other forms of baseload energy because it can’t be quickly switched on and off and stops research cash to nascent marine technologies” is utter nonsense. Nuclear plants are not switched on and off because they supply baseload and are more economic to operate that way. In  2011, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change reported (inter alia) that nuclear power appears likely to be the lowest-cost low-carbon technology. Nuclear power is not depriving marine technologies of research cash; the UK puts no research into nuclear power.

• As for nuclear power creating “Fukushima levels of risk” – what does that mean? The accident at Fukushima Daishi in Japan in March 2011 was caused by a tsunami, following an earthquake, and inadequate power resilience in an old plant quite unlike modern reactors. It holds no lessons for future British nuclear power developments.

• Uranium supplies “non-renewable”? Well, that depends on one’s time horizon. At the present rate of consumption, known sources will last 230 years and could easily be doubled (to 460 years). Extracting uranium from seawater could fuel every nuclear plant on the planet for 6,500 years. Some describe uranium as “quasi-renewable”. How long do we expect our civilisation to last?

Lesley Riddoch is entitled to her view on nuclear power but she is not entitled to misrepresent it.

Steuart Campbell

Dovecot Loan, Edinburgh

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