Clouds are gathering over Britain's new nuclear dawn

The Government's plans to head off an impending energy crisis are shrouded in uncertainty, reports Mark Leftly

The politicians of Cumbria County Council have cooled on the idea of burying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste but a kilometre beneath their feet.

Initially tempted by the huge economic benefits a £12bn nuclear research and disposal would bring, councillors now seem dismayed that the waste wouldn't be considered safe for another 100,000 years.

On Tuesday, the council put back plans to test the suitability of potential sites until next year. This is the latest in a series of blows for a government that is worried sick of an impending energy gap: OfGem has just warned that spare energy production capacity will be gone in three years, making the UK dependent on imported gas. Ministers want to settle this energy crisis with a wave of new nuclear power stations, particularly as it is a clean power source that will help the country meet strict carbon emissions targets.

If the three consortiums that are planning to develop those stations cannot even rely on the UK to find a dumping ground for radioactive waste, then there may be no future for the new nuclear programme.

Yet, Whitehall remains fairly calm about the state of the consortiums, convinced that the first of the five sites that are due to start generating power by 2019 will broadly hit that target.

The most committed company to the nuclear programme is France's EDF Energy. What is less certain is the willingness of British Gas' parent Centrica, the only British company left within the three groups. EDF is known to have drawn up a "plan B" should Centrica pull out, which could happen when the Government finalises a nuclear market rate band later this year.

The floor of that band will determine whether there is enough money in new nuclear generation to allow it to ignore more straightforward opportunities in traditional markets, such as gas production. Critics argue that this is essentially a subsidy.

The first project due is a new, £14bn plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset, which would be the UK's first since 1995. EDF is in talks with two Chinese energy giants about selling them a stake in Hinkley, a move that would spread some of the risk of the project – particularly if Centrica does decide to pull out.

The biggest blow to new build came earlier this year when German energy groups RWE and E.on decided to ditch their Horizon consortium, which was to spend £15bn on new power stations in North Wales and Gloucestershire.

At the time, environmentalists believed this was a significant moment in their campaign to persuade the government nuclear was potentially too dangerous, and wind and solar power made far more sense. However, government nerves were soon calmed when several potential bidders appeared.

Bids were due at the end of last month and were expected from three parties. However, one of these groupings, which consisted of Guangdong and France's Areva pulled out at the last minute, fuelling reports that the process was in disarray.

However, a source close to that sale insists the consortium would have been the weakest of the three, with Guangdong far more eager to take that stake in Hinkley Point.

The two remaining ventures are led by Japanese rivals Hitachi and Toshiba, though there have been questions over the latter's financing for the bid.

NuGen is due to build on Sellafield, and is the existing developer most shrouded in mystery. Even a Government source admits he is not certain what is going on.

Last week there was a seemingly well-sourced report that Iberdrola was planning to pull-out, which the Spanish group has since denied. Whitehall mandarins are taking this denial at face value and industry insiders are, in fact, more concerned that Iberdrola's partner, GDF Suez, might eventually be the one which chooses not to proceed.

As clear as mud, then – which is why it is unsurprising such doubts remain over nuclear's new dawn.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence