Australian news, and some related international items

In Britain, as in America, Small Nuclear Reactors – useless – EXCEPT FOR helping the nuclear weapons industry

A secret military agenda.  UK defence policy is driving energy policy – with the public kept in the dark, Beyond Nuclear
By David Thorpe, 8 Nov 20
,The UK government has for 15 years persistently backed the need for new nuclear power. Given its many problems, most informed observers can’t understand why. The answer lies in its commitment to being a nuclear military force. Here’s how, and why, anyone opposing nuclear power also needs to oppose its military use.

“All of Britain’s household energy needs supplied by offshore wind by 2030,” proclaimed Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a recent online Conservative Party conference. This means 40 per cent of total UK electricity. Johnson did not say how, but it is likely, if it happens, to be by capacity auctions, as it has been in the recent past.

But this may have been a deliberate distraction: there were two further announcements on energy – both about nuclear power.

16 so-called “small nuclear reactors”

Downing Street told the Financial Times, which it faithfully reported, that it was “considering” £2 billion of taxpayers’ money to support “small nuclear reactors” – up to 16 of them “to help UK meet carbon emissions targets”.

It claimed the first SMR is expected to cost £2.2 billion and be online by 2029.

The government could also commission the first mini power station, giving confidence to suppliers and investors. Any final decision will be subject to the Treasury’s multiyear spending review, due later this year.

The consortium that would build it includes Rolls Royce and the National Nuclear Laboratory.

Support for this SMR technology is expected to form part of Boris Johnson’s “10-point plan for a green industrial revolution” and new Energy White Paper, which are scheduled for release later in the autumn.

Johnson will probably also frame it as his response to the English citizens assembly recommendations– a version of the one demanded by Extinction Rebellion in 2019 – which reported its conclusions last month.

While the new energy plan will also include carbon capture and storage, and using hydrogen as vehicle fuel, it’s the small modular reactors that are eye-popping.

They would be manufactured on production lines in central plants and transported to sites for assembly. Each would operate for up to 60 years, “providing 440MW of electricity per year — enough to power a city the size of Leeds”, Downing Street said, and the Financial Times copied.

The SMR design is alleged to be ready by April next year. The business and energy department has already pledged £18 million (US $23.48 million) towards the consortium’s early-stage plans.

They are not small

The first thing to know about these beasts is that they are not small. 440MW? The plant at Wylfa (Anglesey, north Wales) was 460MW (it’s closed now). 440MW is bigger than all the Magnox type reactors except Wylfa and comparable to an Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor.

Where will they be built? In the town of Derby – the home of Rolls Royce – where, as nuclear consultant Dr. David Lowry points out, the government is already using the budget of the Housing and Communities Department to finance the construction of a new advanced manufacturing centre site.

When asked why this site was not being financed by the business and energy department (BEIS), as you’d expect, a spokesperson responded that it was part of “levelling up regeneration money”.

Or perhaps BEIS did not want its budget used in such a way. Throwing money at such a “risky prospect” betrays “an irrationally cavalier attitude” according to Andrew Stirling, Professor of Science & Technology Policy at the University of Sussex Business School, because an “implausibly short time” is being allowed to produce an untested reactor design.

Only if military needs are driving this decision is it explicable, Stirling says. “Even in a worst case scenario, where this massive Rolls Royce production line and supply chain investment is badly delayed (or even a complete failure) with respect to civil reactor production, what will nonetheless have been gained is a tooled-up facility and a national skills infrastructure for producing perhaps two further generations of submarine propulsion reactors, right into the second half of the century.

“And the costs of this will have been borne not by the defence budget, but by consumers and citizens.”

Yes, military needs

UK defence policy is fully committed to military nuclear. The roots of civil nuclear power lay in the Cold War push to develop nuclear weapons. Thus has it ever been since the British public was told nuclear electricity would be “too cheap to meter”.

The legacy of empire and thrust for continued perceived world status are at the core of a post-Brexit mentality. It’s inconceivable to the English political elite that this status could exist without Great Britain being in the nuclear nations club, brandishing the totem of a nuclear deterrent.

“The civil-military link is undisputable and should be openly discussed,” agrees Dr Paul Dorfman at the Energy Institute, University College London.

Andrew Stirling talks of the “tragic relative popularity of (increasingly obsolescent) nuclear weapons”. The coincidental fact that civil nuclear installations are also crumbling provides a serendipitous opportunity for some.

The stores of plutonium in the UK are already overflowing and the military has its own dedicated uranium enrichment logistics.

Any nation’s defence budget in this day and age cannot afford a new generation of nuclear weapons. So it needs to pass the costs onto the energy sector.

“Clearly, the military need to maintain both reactor construction and operation skills and access to fissile materials will remain. I can well see the temptation for Defence Ministers to try to transfer this cost to civilian budgets,” observes Tom Burke, Chairman of think tank E3G.

The threat of nuclear proliferation

The threat of nuclear proliferation is therefore linked to the spread of civil nuclear power worldwide, says Dr David Toke, Reader in Energy Politics, Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen. David Lowry agrees: “India, Pakistan and above all Israel are obvious examples, each of which certainly has built nuclear weapons.”

It’s impossible to separate the tasks of challenging civil nuclear power without also challenging military nuclear interests, Stirling strongly believes. “The massive expense of increasingly ineffective military nuclear systems extend beyond the declared huge budgets. They are also propped up by large hidden subsidies from consumer and taxpayer payments for costly nuclear power.

“Huge hidden military interests will likely continue to keep the civil nuclear monster growing new arms. Until critics reach out and engage the entire thing, we’ll never prevail in either struggle.”

How new plants would be paid for still remains a question. Nuclear power is prohibitively expensive.

November 9, 2020 - Posted by | General News

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