Letter to FT, 2010-01-10

The Editor, Letters, The Financial Times

Dear Sir

Monsieur Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy asserts ("A nuclear Britain can lead the way on emissions," Comment, January 8) that “EDF has never looked for subsidy for nuclear.” Nuclear generators such as EDF do not have to "look for" subsidies because they are already in-built into the financial infastructureon which nuclear energy depends.
Following similar earlier assertions from M.De Rivaz in the media I wrote to him asking if he would clarify for me:

1. With which insurance company has EDF made agreement to underwrite 100% of the liability should any accident happen at one or more of the planned new reactors and its associated facilities including spent fuel stores and nuclear materials in transit to and from the plant site? As no subsidies are either sought or required by EDF, can you confirm EDF will not accept any state underwriting of insurance at all, regardless of any revisions to be made in Paris /Vienna conventions on nuclear liability?

2. What proportion of the publicly funded research and development  into  the planned underground repository for high activity nuclear waste will be refunded by EDF should any  irradiated spent fuel be finally emplaced in such a repository; and will EDF refuse to accept a ‘cap’ – as Government proposes -  on the unit cost for radioactive waste from its proposed new nuclear plants, and commit to paying the full financial cost for the long term management/disposal of its  radioactive waste, whatever that turns out to be? 
3. What re-imbursement will EDF make to the
United Kingdom government in respect of British taxpayers money spent at the IAEA and Euratom on nuclear safety  research that is applicable to EDF's planned new nuclear plants in the UK?
I first received a general response from Paul Spence, Director of Strategy and Regulation for EDF Energy. When I pointed out that my specific questions had not been addressed, I was told by Mr Spence that:

“You raise a number of speculative scenarios and questions about Government policy proposals.” He added “The UK faces a serious and increasingly urgent challenge to ensure clean, secure and affordable energy supplies. It is for Government to determine policy on how this challenge should be met and to set the rules and regulations within which the private sector can deliver the low carbon investments the country urgently needs.”

And concluded: ”I am afraid I cannot comment on your speculative scenarios and so I believe we have answered your questions as fully is appropriate.”

I find it utterly unacceptable that a foreign company can propose to build several new nuclear reactors in Britain, and decline to demonstrate public accountability, especially as its plans will result in the British taxpayer being lumbered with potentially massive  future liabilities for generations to come.

All of this without the  loan guarantees, de facto subsidies, I expect to see being claimed by nuclear companies if their desired nuclear reactor construction projects are given the go-ahead.

As ever, the devil is in the detail., but EDF prefers sweeping generalities. Atomic affordability for EDF and other aspirant atomic generators -comes  with significant subsidies from British taxpayers.


Dr David Lowry

Environmental policy and research consultant

co-author, The International Politics of Nuclear Waste (Macmillan Press, 1991); contributing author, Nuclear or Not? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, second edition)