Nuclear Plant Builders In UK Want Higher Carbon Tax

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Originally published on RenewEconomy.

Australian government members harbouring a not-so-secret fantasy to see nuclear generation in Australia can add another major offence to its principals that such projects would require.

nuclear power plant czech republic
Image Credit: Nuclear power plant in Temelin, Czech Republic via Kletr/Shutterstock.

The Telegraph in the UK is reporting that EdF, the mostly French government-owned nuclear giant that is proposing to build the $26 billion Hinkley Point C, is now pushing the UK government to increase its carbon tax so the financials for the first nuclear plant in the UK for nearly three decades adds up.

As Centrica (formerly British Gas) chairman Sir Roger Carr noted last year when pulling his company and its 500 million investment out of the consortium: “Nuclear is not a cheap option.”

It also requires massive subsidies. The Hinkley Point plant requires a guaranteed tariff of £92.50/MWH ($170/MWH), that is twice the wholesale price in the UK and about four times the price in Australia.

And Hinkley also requires a massive loan guarantee (£10 billion) to cover the cost of building the plant. The European Commission is currently investigating the deal struck between EdF and the UK government to see if the subsidies are illegal. It noted in a 70-page interim report published in January that the total subsidies of £17 billion amount to more than the cost of the plant.

EDF had been expected to announce a final investment decision on the plant in July, but the Telegraph reports that this will now not be met. It cites the EC investigation and concern that the UK will put a cap on its nation carbon tax, which it applies to the electricity industry (and is over and above the EU carbon price).

EDF is also lobbying strongly against a long-term freeze of the UK’s rising carbon tax, which it fears would weaken the case for Hinkley by pushing up the bill for direct subsidies for the plant,” the Telephraph writes.

“EDF – whose existing nuclear power plant fleet would also benefit significantly from the rising carbon tax – is understood to be urging the Chancellor to guarantee that any freeze would last no more than a two years and that the tax would then revert to its upwards trajectory.”

The company, which is still in talks with potential investors to take stakes in the Hinkley Point project, also argues that a policy u-turn on the carbon tax would damage the UK’s attractiveness.

This is interesting stuff for Tony Abbott’s conservative government. Many of his advisors favour nuclear, the nuclear option will be canvassed in the upcoming energy white paper, and some members, such as the climate-denying, would-be science minister Dennis Jensen, suggest that car workers could be retrained to run nuclear plants.

Apart from the improbability of that last suggestion, it seems clear that if Abbott was ever to entertain nuclear as a serious option – it could only do so by abandoning the idea of a cheap fuel source, accepting the need for loan guarantees, and for a carbon price.

May be they should just focus on what they have – ironing out the cost absurdities in network pricing and building its renewable energy portfolio.

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Giles Parkinson

is the founding editor of, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.

Giles Parkinson has 596 posts and counting. See all posts by Giles Parkinson

46 thoughts on “Nuclear Plant Builders In UK Want Higher Carbon Tax

  • I can’t wait to see what the anti-nuclear zealots have to say when the Chinese-built Westinghouse AP1000 reactors go online, at about $3.3billion per gigawatt, which, to innumerate wind/solar-fairy-tale consumers…is cheap.

    • What’s your calculation for building a AP1000 in the western world with our labor and material prices?

      Oh, and include financing costs. In fact, give us a LCOE price please.

      • The head of the atomic energy agency of Pakistan announced that they will build 32 1 gigawatt reactors in conjunction with China in the next 10-15 years. India is ironing out its Liability Law with US Secretary of Energy Moniz this week, which will enable India to commence building 6 AP1000s, 6 Areva EPRs, 6 GE ESBWRs and 6 more Rosatom VVERs. Saudi Arabia is letting out bids soon for a minimum of 16 new reactors. South Africa and Rosatom are in the final stages of signing a contract for 8 VVERs. But of course, they can’t do the math as well as faux greens in the pay of natural gas interests. Natural gas “backup” operates 80% of the time that your absurd wind/solar installations are idle. But of course, such “useful idiots” for fossil fuel interests are “really good at math.”

        • Paul, we know you’re all excited because other countries are planning on building nuclear.

          But we can’t build nuclear in the US for Chinese, Pakastani, or Indian costs. Certainly you understand that.

          How about figuring out the likely cost of new nuclear power in the US and then we can discuss whether it would make sense?

        • All I could Google for your South African assertion was Russian marketing claims. Can you point to a South African site with evidence that the government is seriously interested in the offer? As for India : they can’t even manage to build planned coal plants on time. Why should we take seriously the ambitions of a nuclear establishment increasingly disconnected from reality? Four different reactor types at once! Pakistan: you must be joking.

          • I have found that anti-nuclear zealots live in a “confirmation bias” echo chamber just as impervious to contrary opinion as the closed-minded climate deniers who are chained to Fox News. I have read and reread your opinions. Nothing can hide the fact that solar and wind are appropriate for niches, not for baseload electrical generation. With capacity utilization factors of about 20%, being inherently intermittent and unreliable, for 24/7 baseload use they require natural gas “backup” for 80% of the time. That is, solar and wind are the lipstick on natural gas pigs, and in Germany the “greens” are lipstick on lignite coal pigs, and have brown drool coming out their mouths. I’m sorry if you find this pejorative, but the truth hurts and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

          • Paul, you really don’t understand how a renewable grid works. (Or you pretend you don’t.)

            First, no one purposes a 100% solar grid. Except for unusal places such as the Tokelau Islands which are powered by 100% solar. They’ve gone all solar with battery storage and are saving significant money over imported diesel.

            A renewable grid would include all renewables available in the are. Most likely solar and wind would dominate the supply stream. The Sun does shine only a limited amount of time per day but that also happens to be when demand is the highest so we are likely to get 30+% of our electricity directly from the Sun.

            The wind, in many places, blows almost 24/365. The wind speed varies but by connecting wind farms over a moderate area wind can provide “baseload” power 85% of the time.

            BTW, did you know that the CF (capacity factor) for US nuclear plants is less than 85%. Something has to back up those reactors the other 15+%.

            Were you to spend a little time and learn more about renewable energy then you could make intelligent comparisons between renewables and nuclear.

          • Bob,

            Your presentation of capacity factor seems somewhat amiss. Nuclear plant typically runs at 90+% of total capacity and this gets reduced to the 80-85% CF by planned maintenance outages or where the plant is asked to reduce output or (of course) if the plant breaks down. Your missing 15% is typically covered by a planned switch to another plant during maintenance periods or by deliberately running the plant at reduced output.

            While CF for wind also includes planned outages for maintenance (and breakdowns) the format of the output is very different.

            A 25% CF for an IWT is composed of a typical (i.e. most common) output value of around 13-15% which gets inflated to a CF of 25% by a few unpredictable high energy wind events over the year. As I am sure you know, wind energy obeys a cube law. Double the speed and get 8 times the energy. Halve the wind speed and get 1/8 the energy. A small change in wind speed has a very dramatic effect on the output.

            An IWT is the only large scale energy producer whose typical output is BELOW the Capacity Factor.

            The most important aspect of all this though is CO2 emissions. For that we have a good comparison between Energiewende Germany and Nuclear France.

            Germany CO2 power generation 480 Kg/MWhr
            France CO2 power generation 75 Kg/MWHr

            As Mark Lynas once said. If you want wind – you’ll get coal. Germany today bears this out. As commenter Paul (above) said – truly lipstick on a lignite pig.

            Perhaps the words of Jim Hansen are even more appropriate:

            “suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”

            Hansen, Wigley and Lovelock (as examples) all strongly support Nuclear and don’t believe in tooth fairies.

            While that last sentence may well be regarded as an appeal to authority, you have to admit, it’s a helluva lot of authority.

          • No, Bill. 90% allows for a 10% down time for refueling and scheduled maintenance. For the last two years US reactors have been running in the low 80% because of breakdowns which have taken some plants offline. France’s reactors return about a 75% CF because some are intentionally shut down during prolonged periods of low demand.

            Capacity factor is generally calculated on an annual basis. A 40% CF for wind means that the turbine/farm produced 40% as much electricity during the year as if the turbine/farm had run at full speed 100% of the time.
            CF does not indicate the number of hours of production per year for a wind farm. CF is highly correlated with hours of production for nuclear and coal plants as they generally aren’t load following, but run at full output (nameplate) when operating.

            France does have a lower CO2 emission level than Germany. That is because France built a lot of nuclear a long time ago.
            Now the world has changed. Nuclear has become more expensive while wind and solar have become cheap. Nuclear now makes no financial sense.

            If you use Lynas as your guide you will be badly mislead. If you want wind then you’ll also want solar, hydro, tidal, geothermal, wave, biomass/gas and storage. That’s how one builds a 100% renewable grid. Lynas and other nuclear advocates ignore the need for backup and storage in order to incorporate more than a small amount of nuclear on a grid.

            Hansen is very badly mistaken in his nuclear/renewables statement. He’s a top notch climate scientist but is out of his league when it comes to power generation.

          • This is my last comment otherwise this all gets a bit troll like..but I will read any reply if anyone chooses to make one.

            Bob, If you think the typical IWT CF is 40% we must be living on different planets. In the UK the highest annual CF in the last 10 years has been 28% and offshore 35% They have also been as low as 23% and 28% respectively. In Germany onshore is sub 20% (typically 17% if I remember correctly) .

            As for difficulties incorporating nuclear on the grid – the French manage perfectly well with 78% penetration today. While most nuclear is run in baseload some French plant actually load follows which is why the CF sometime drops. i.e. they deliberately throttle the plant up/down to match their needs. Try doing that with wind and or solar. Or for that matter running solar/wind in base load – it doesn’t work.

            German biomass currently involves burning half their harvested timber. Yet they still rely on lignite & hard coal. Their emissions are actually climbing. As an attempt to cut emissions the Energiewende can only be regarded as a complete failure.

            Hydro, tidal and geothermal are limited (and have their own environmental problems) wave is currently prototype only while storage is not even on the horizon (that includes Vanadium Redox batteries – work out how much sulphuric acid you need!)

            I support R&D in all these areas but building flawed plant with the hope that “something will turn up” to reduce its intermittency (other than by coal/gas) is sub-optimal to say the least.

            I am sure you will understand why I’ll take Jim Hansen’s opinion over yours. Especially as (among other top power generation scientists) Prof. David Mackay shares his views.

            But really the simplest and most damning fact you need to address is this:

            CO2 Germany power generation 480 Kg/MWHr
            CO2 France power generation 75 Kg/MWHr

            This not a minor inconsequential difference this is a MASSIVE difference.

            It is a comparison between one technology that actually cuts emissions, reduces ocean acidification and reduces air pollution and another that fails to make any significant impact on any of these problems.


          • Bill, do you see any place where I claimed that the typical wind farm reports a 40% CF?

            Actually US median CF is 37% so 40% isn’t a bad number to use when explaining CF.

            Some US farms are well into the upper 40% range, but some of the older farms pull the median downward. A couple wind farms have broken over 50%. The US has some excellent wind resources.

            The French manage to run their grid with a large amount of nuclear because they can ship excess power to neighboring countries and buy back from other countries when they run short. The French run a net negative balance of trade with Germany when it comes to electricity. The rest of Europe serves as France’s “storage”.

            Germany’s emissions rose a bit following their decision to close nuclear. Someone estimated that 2013 emissions would also be up over 2012 but now that the data is starting to come in for the last two months of the year it looks like the 2013 total will be down from 2012.

            Furthermore, if you look at domestic electricity emissions Germany is doing fine. The problem is that German coal plants are selling electricity to other countries (such as France). I’ve posted a graph at the bottom.

            Germany should have its new more efficient coal plants on line in the next year or two. That will let them finish closing their old less efficient ones and get back on track.

            You can take Hansen’s opinion if you wish. But you’ll be hooking your wagon to a failed horse. Hansen is speaking crap. And McKay is someone who supports nuclear and misrepresents renewables.

            If you’d rather be correct you might want to learn more about renewables. Up to you.

            We all know that France has a much lower CO2 rate than Germany. That’s because France built a lot of nuclear generation back a long time ago. Back when nuclear was a better financial decision. But now renewables are cheaper and nuclear is being pushed off the table.

            BTW, remember that France “owns” the CO2 that comes from the German coal plants that produce some of France’s electricity.

            Here’s the thing about nuclear, Bill. It’s much more expensive than renewables. It takes much longer to bring on line, which means more CO2 emissions. And it brings with it dangers and unsolved waste disposal issues.

    • Cant wait to see the Nuclear fanboys go to ground when this project’s costs blow out by 100%+ and the time to build blows out by several years, by which point solar costs will be less than 50% of today and wind about 25% lower. Care to link to a nuclear build in a western nation in the last ten years which has been built on time or on budget?

      • “Cant wait to see the Nuclear fanboys go to ground when this project’s costs blow out by 100%+ and the time to build blows out by several years…”

        But that never happens…

        • Empires fall due to the stagnation, decay and rot that accompanies the institutions that were responsible for their prior success. In the West, this means fossil fuel corporations. In China, India, and now Vietnam (which is proceeding with a program to build ten 1-gigawatt reactors), they are unencumbered by these rotting institutions. The roadblocks to nuclear power by fossil fuel corporations are what you morons are cheering; you are cheering rot and decay.You are adjuncts and accomplices to rot and decay. And, you are losers. When China innovates new, even safer and cheaper nuclear power, such as molten salt reactors, at electrical prices half that of coal, even the capitalists of the West will be forced to capitulate. And your children and grandchildren will scorn you for your hypocrisy, of claiming to be against global warming, while being the useful idiots of the fossil fuel corporations.

          • People who are in favour of $80 a tonne carbon prices are useful idiots for fossil fuel corporations? Boy, the fossil fuel industry really needs to find some higher quality stooges.

      • You’re assuming that they’ll be over-budget instead of under-existing.

  • How can one not be an ‘anti-nuclear zealot’ when the economics of this power source are so off-track. Industry needs to account for – and bear – the real costs associated with the risks involved. Until affordable technology takes us to a place where the risk of accidental failure and the costs and logisitics associated with dealing with the deadly waste are manageable, nuclear is an immoral investment.

  • I’m unclear on why they are pushing for a carbon price designed to drive up the cost of fossil fuel electricity.

    My understanding is that the UK was giving the new reactors a 35 year purchase agreement in which reactors would get priority access to the grid. That they would not be forced to curtail by cheaper sources and would receive their 17 cents per kWh regardless of how much cheaper other sources might be.

    • I thought that covered just the new Hinkley plant. Not any existing plants. They want to drive up the cost of other thermal so that the existing plants make more.

    • If demand keeps falling and obligate generators like solar keep rising then they may have no choice but to curtail because the demand simply wont be there.

      • That is why nuclear seeks to always provide “baseload” so that the demand will always be there. See my longer comment above!

    • The 17 cents a kilowatt-hour figure is the minimum price they will receive. If the price goes over 17 cents a kilowatt-hour as it often does during periods of high demand they will get the higher figure. So a higher carbon price can benefit Hinkley C, although it will also encourage the building of more renewable capacity which will lower electricity wholesale prices, but they will still get their 17 cents so boo hoo UK consumers.

      • Thanks. Didn’t know the 17 was a guaranteed minimum. Thought it was a fixed price.

        • And a carbon price makes their older plants more competitive.

          Like I always say, if your plan has only one objective, you’re really shitty at planing

        • Perhaps they don’t think that wind and solar and other renewables will ever meet enough demand to render electricity produced from Hinkley C unnecessary, but it only took 7 years for South Australia to go from basically all fossil fuels to occassionally getting all demand met by renewables and these nuclear plants are supposed to keep operating for 60 years or something. However, I’m pretty sure their contract would state that they get at least 17 cents for each kilowatt-hour Hinkley C generates whether it is needed or not.

          • I believe the agreement states that Hinkley’s power all gets paid for regardless of what power from other sources might cost.

            It’s a 35 year guaranteed market.

            Rather incredible. Once the UK catches up with the rest of the world in terms of onshore wind prices they would find themselves curtailing 15 cent power.

          • It’s worse than that. Europe has high electricity prices and low capital costs and low costs of solar. This means rooftop solar can continue to expand even if average wholesale electricity prices during the day drop towards zero. So it may not be long before the action of solar, wind, French nuclear, some hydroelectricity, and tidal and wave energy result in wholesale electricity regularly costing nothing or next to nothing during the day. So Europe could soon be enjoying almost free electricity when the sun shines while Brits will still be paying 17 cents a kilowatt-hour to Hinkley C.

      • According to this piece Hinkley is locked in at 17 cents. A higher carbon price would be of direct value.

        “A price of £92.50 per MWh was agreed as the strike price for the project, meaning the government will top up EDF’s income to this level if wholesale prices are lower. EDF will have to pay back to government if market prices are higher.

        The arrangement is slated to run for 35 years from 2023, or the start of operation of each reactor, whichever comes sooner. It includes protection for the investors against political risks in the form of potential “nuclear taxes, uranium and generation taxes” politically motivated shutdowns or the revision of the CfD scheme. Overall, EDF said the strike price should give about a 10% return on investment.”

        It could be that cranking up the cost of fossil fuel electricity with a carbon tax could help disguise the high cost of Hinkley power.

        In the US some utilities are cranking up the cost of electricity prior to building reactors. That extra collected money goes into the building fund for the reactor, lowering the apparent cost, but more importantly making the price jump after the reactor comes on line less severe.

        • Thanks for that. I was under the impression that if the price went above 17 cents they would be paid the higher price. Of course since the average wholesale price of electricity in the UK is something like 7 cents it is still of course not a good deal for the British people. It is just marginally less worse than I thought it was. But this is a great day for nuclear boosters, Bob. Thanks to your investigative reporting they can now proudly state with heads held high that, “New nuclear in the UK only costs 17 cents per kilowatt-hour.” I know I’m looking forward to hearing them boast about that.

          • I’m kind of wondering what the reaction from the anti-wind folks might be, as they consider seeing nuclear drive their electricity bills higher?

            Might those turbines be just a tiny bit less ugly?

          • At first I was going to say that crazy people aren’t going to be affected by reality, but then I realised I was thinking of the stupid drongos in Australia who think coal can’t hurt them but wind turbines can. But opposition to onshore wind in the UK is probably not quite so nutty and not so supported by fossil fuel interests, so increasing electricity prices and increased awareness of why they are increasing could result in more support for wind turbines. Of course here in Australia there are ignorant people, our current Prime Minister included, who appear to be convinced that if a fruit cannery closes down it must be because of our well below the OECD average carbon price, so sometimes I’m afraid people delibrately make themselves less aware rather than become more aware.

    • The Nuclear Industry has latched onto carbon taxes as yet another way to try and encourage the use of their own nuclear power plants, although their media blitz conveniently avoid mentioning anything about waste storage, decommissioning and/or the mining of Uranium that provides their fuel. See my longer complete comment at the top.

  • I wonder how much wind/solar we could get for the money being spent on this?

    Would we get more power generation for our money?

    • That’s a hard one. It seems that the UK is very inefficient when it comes to onshore wind. Their costs seem quiet high.

      If they could get their installed costs down closer to the rest of the world’s then you might get a bunch of wind gen.

      I suspect that long before any new reactor would come on line the Brits will have figured wind out.

      • Permitting delays fuelled by NIMBYs may be part of the problem. They hardly exist for offshore, so the investment goes there, even if it’s more expensive to build and for the taxpayer to guarantee.

      • “Their costs seem quiet high.”


        • Spelling. Should have paid attention in school….

          • Weren’t you a professor at one point?

          • Didn’t teach spelling.

            That’s what secretaries and graduate students are for.

          • You were a professor? What subject? Must have missed that thread.

    • Yes, you would. At German installation costs, or even above German installation costs, point of use solar is cheaper than electricity from Hinkley C even in deary old Britain. Wind is also cheaper, although there seems to be a lot of bother involved in building wind turbines on land. But the UK is not an island. Not where electricity is concerned. It is quite capable of importing low emission electricity if it wishes for under 17 cents a kilowatt-hour if it doesn’t want to build its own wind turbines. Crikey, importing biomass from Australia would be cheaper.

  • it is time for a nuclear reactor melt down explosion in Europe
    a European Fukushima disaster.
    Whats the plan when that happens????
    and what about War Exposure of nuclear plants.

    Nukes are a big risk in any Warsituation.

    • I’d submit that “Nukes” are a BIG RISK in any situation, since Fukushima has proven that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7.

      As we all know you can’t fool Mother Nature (or she’ll make a fool out of you)…

  • The Nuclear Industry has latched onto carbon taxes as yet another way to try and encourage the use of their own nuclear power plants, although their media blitz conveniently avoid mentioning anything about waste storage, decommissioning and/or the mining of Uranium that provides their fuel. This “sales trick” allows them to push for Society to use less Coal and Natural Gas, which are now big competitors, since they cost less than Nuclear.

    Their game plan has not changed, it is to get paid as THE baseload provider, which will guarantee their profitability no matter how much Solar is installed in the future, since they will get paid to keep the Grid “stabilized”. This sounds so logical, especially to all those that have no knowledge of how the electrical supply
    system works but in reality it is just another “sales pitch” since there are other ways to power the Grid. Germany is well on their way to “shift” from using nuclear to renewables and as we all know, you have to start doing things differently before you can make a change.

    This is especially true in the UK, because the Queen of England controls most of the Uranium mined in the World, so what is good for the Queen is “good” for the entire nuclear Industry and as we all know, it pays to have powerful friends in Gov’t. Yes, we are living in the 21 Century but all the UK ratepayers are now being treated as just “surfs” that must accept expensive energy because it is good for the Crown and their Wealthy ruling class, since they believe that controlling Energy costs used to be and still is a very effective way to control Society.

    The same is true in Japan, for as we have seen, even though the majority of its citizens do not want to risk yet another Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster like Fukushima by restarting their nuclear power plants, their Leaders who are in sync/supported by their powerful Utility “Gangs” know what is best for them (pun intended).

    In the past, everyone had little to no options except to pay for electrical Energy but that has now changed because those same ratepayers can install their own Solar (of all flavors) and thus break the bonds of their Energy slavery to their Utility
    Companies. Once the installed Solar has paid for itself in Energy savings, these ratepayers become equals to the Privileged Rich, since their Energy costs are no longer a financial concern.

    This is the underlining threat that Solar (of all flavors) is to all those that have traditionally profited from the sale of Energy. This same group is now not only
    dragging their influential feet but they are also calling in all owed favors from their Political friends in order to maintain the status quo before Solar (of all flavors) gets out of hand. Said another way, they want to insure that the profits keep flowing into their hand so spending some of their profits now on donations to these decision makers is now seen as just part of doing business, which to them, is far better than being squeezed out of business, as ever more of their customers become Energy generators themselves.

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