Mark Casci: We don't need Hinkley when the energy answers are at home here in Yorkshire

There's a cliché in American politics surrounding the thorny issue of Social Security; 'it is the third rail of politics, touch it and you die'.

The Hinkley Point C nuclear plant
The Hinkley Point C nuclear plant

To my mind the British equivalency is energy.

Nobody in this or any previous government is under any illusions about the need for a bold strategy to keep the lights on for ourselves and future generations but in terms of making it happen the response from Westminster has been timid.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

For George Osborne, his panacea was a massive nuclear power station in the South West at Hinkley Point. The power station would be built by the Chinese, based on a model from the French state-owned EDF energy, at a cost of £18.5bn to the taxpayer. Hinkley Point looked as though it would be one of Osborne’s principal legacies from his time in the Treasury until the very last minute when the new Government under Theresa May decided to press the pause button.

An artists impression of plans for the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. See letter

The scheme has met with widespread scepticism, not just from the predictable environmental lobbies, but from investment houses and financiers who questioned the 35-year contract priced at £92.50 per megawatt hour, a hefty price by any industrial energy production measure.

Mrs May will give her official pronouncement on Hinkley Point when Parliament resumes in the Autumn but it is clear that there is substantial concern from Downing Street about the project on many levels.

She will wish to avoid at all costs the appearance of being reluctant to do business with China, something the Chinese Government will inevitably characterise any attempt to put the blockers on Hinkley Point. Already China’s state-owned media has hinted that future investment projects in the UK were contingent on Hinkley getting the green light.

The Prime Minister travels to Hangzhou next week for the G20 summit and the matter will inevitably come up. The problem that Mrs May has is that while we need Chinese investment we do not need Hinkley.

Sheffield Forgemasters

It is a massively over-expensive boondoggle of a project and one that is not suited to our energy needs. This is far from an anti-nuclear diatribe. It is hard to envisage any energy strategy for the UK that would not involve atomic power of some description.

But a vast power station, which will take ten years to bid, is an out-of-date solution for a market which is rapidly decentralising and evolving market. For a start nuclear power is undergoing a mini revolution in terms of how it operates. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are a new kind of nuclear power, one that is smaller, cheaper, scalable and far safer. And we are building them here in Yorkshire.

Sheffield Foregemasters recently inked a deal with NuScale Power to develop the technology which could produce reliable and clean energy for the National Grid by as early as the next decade.

The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham - part of Sheffield University - is at the cutting edge of this technology, developing small scale reactors that can be transported by road. They run at approximately £2bn a pop, and six of them when installed in chains could match the output of Hinkley, coming in at a fraction of the cost. And let’s not forget the even cheaper option of renewable energy where again Yorkshire is a leader.

An artists impression of plans for the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. See letter

Last week Dong Energy finalised its Hornsea Project Two for 300 turbines in the North Sea, again producing electricity at a far more attractive rate than Hinkley’s £92.50 per hour offering. China is a pragmatic nation. It has just opened a fresh air link with Beijing and Manchester. It will not turn its back on the UK over one deal.

And when Yorkshire and the North is offering cost-effective, cutting edge and environmentally sound alteratives why would we accept what is, and always has been, a bad deal?

Sheffield Forgemasters