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Uncertain future for UK Nuclear Power

Uncertain future for UK Nuclear Power

Justine Matchett 18 Jan 2019
Whilst the Government continues to focus on endless Brexit debate, the UK has been dealt a blow with the announcement by Horizon Nuclear power,  a subsidiary of Japanese giant Hitachi, of its decision to  suspend work on the Wylfa Newydd nuclear plant in Anglesey. The Company has blamed the decision on rising construction costs. The original Wylfa plant closed in 2015 after more than 40 years of service and it was anticipated that about 9,000 workers would have been involved in the construction of the £20bn replacement which was due to be operational by the mid- 2020s.  Hitachi had been in talks with the UK government since June 2018 to agree how Wylfa Newydd would be paid for, and critically how much public money could be invested. With Government resources remaining tight these talks appear to have fallen by the wayside. As a result, with no commitment or upfront cash being provided by the UK, Hitachi has judged the project just too risky, despite the decision to pull out costing them around £4.2bn. Announcing the suspension, Duncan Hawthorne chief executive of Horizon, said Wylfa Newydd remained "the best site for nuclear development in the UK" and that the company would "keep the option to resume development in future". Despite this, it is a tough blow for the UK nuclear industry, following so close behind the recent decision by Toshiba to wind up its UK nuclear business, NuGen which  was to deliver a new nuclear facility at Moorside in Cumbria. Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) had been a preferred bidder to take over the Moorside project, but those talks fell through after more than a year of negotiations. The Wylfa decision means that a second Hitachi nuclear facility planned for Oldbury, Gloucestershire, will also be shelved. This leaves the Hinkley Point power station in Somerset as the only new UK reactor still being built, raising the very real prospect of a UK energy crisis. The need for a secure and reliable supply of electricity in the UK is undoubtedly a matter of critical importance. The Government made clear in National Policy Statements (NPS) EN-1 (Energy, July 2011) and EN-6 (Nuclear Power Generation, July 2011) that it was keen to ensure that energy from low carbon sources plays an increasing role, and that new nuclear power should contribute as much as possible to the UK’s need for new electricity generating capacity. However the Hitachi decision continues to call into question the ongoing reliance on foreign companies for the UK’s essential energy needs. Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said the government's nuclear strategy was now "lying in tatters" and had "escalated into a full-blown crisis". Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said the news was disappointing for  the nuclear industry as a whole, noting that “the urgent need for further new nuclear capacity in the UK should not be underestimated, with all but one of the UK's nuclear power plants due to come offline by 2030." In a press release back in 2016 the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy announced that ministers would impose a new legal framework for future foreign investment in Britain’s critical infrastructure, which would include nuclear energy and apply after Hinkley. It noted that the new legal framework for future foreign investment in British critical infrastructure would mean that the British Government would take a special share in all future nuclear new build projects. There were to be reforms to the Government’s approach to the ownership and control of critical infrastructure to ensure that the full implications of foreign ownership were scrutinised for the purposes of national security. These changes were intended to bring Britain’s policy framework for the ownership and control of critical infrastructure into line with other major economies, with the intention that, “while the UK will remain one of the most open economies in the world, the public can be confident that foreign direct investment works in the country’s best interests.” With two major overseas investors pulling out of the UK energy market in the last few months alone it looks like the UK will have little alternative but to look for funding sources closer to home if the desire for clean nuclear power is to be realised. If not, then our continued reliance on other nations for our security of energy supplies will leave the UK in an even more fragile position in the future.

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From a rock to a hard place

From a rock to a hard place

James Cox 26 Jan 2018
Whilst much of the UK was being battered by Storm Eleanor, Lichfields’ Leeds office braved the elements in early January to go on a study tour visit to the Johnson Wellfield Quarry at Crosland Moor in Huddersfield. Johnson Wellfield – part of the Myers Group – has been a client of Lichfields for a number of years; the company is known as Britain’s leading supplier of hard Yorkstone. Most recently, Lichfields’ Leeds office has secured planning permission for the expansion of the Johnson Wellfield quarry site by some 23 hectares. So, Arctic weather notwithstanding, we were only too pleased to take Johnson Wellfield up on their invitation to all of us to visit the quarry and see how it operates. Extending to circa 121 hectares, the Crosland Moor quarry currently produces in excess of 60,000 square metres of ‘Crosland Hill’ dimensional stone on an annual basis. The vast majority of the product is used in the construction industry, with Crosland stone notably used in London to reflag Westminster Hall, in projects at the National Maritime Museum, and in the Southbank Centre. Closer to home, it has been used to renovate the cathedrals in Leeds and Sheffield, as well as in and around Leeds’ Millennium Square and Leeds Dock. It has also been used in the regeneration of St Georges Square in Huddersfield which, located just outside the railway station, is where we started our afternoon visit. Thewlis Lane Quarry The Crosland Moor quarry is located some 3.5 kilometres to the south west of Huddersfield town centre and, having been kitted out with Personal Protection Equipment, a short minibus journey took us first to Johnson Wellfield’s most recent quarry at Thewlis Lane, where quarrying works have been underway for just 3 years. Starting life as an open, agricultural field, it was explained that the first task following the grant of planning permission was for earth-working machines to move onto the site and create earth bunds from the topsoil, helping to screen the quarry straightaway from neighbouring residential properties. Maintaining good relationships with neighbouring residents is clearly important to the Myers Group and this is reflected throughout their operation, with internal access roads having been lowered to preserve open views from nearby properties across the moorland and certain parts of the site having being made available for dog-walking. Bedding structure Following the repositioning/ removal of topsoil, it was explained that the second stage of quarrying works is to extract the first layer of stone using a digger fitted with a ripper-tooth. This layer of stone is usually very fragmented in nature and, typically, is either used as a material for stone-walling or is crushed to an aggregate. Sitting below it is a layer of block stone that forms the quarry’s primary output and which we were able to see being extracted by diggers during our tour. Incredibly, the block stone is around 320 million old, with individual blocks ranging from 1-100 tonnes. We were told that one of the main challenges of the entire quarrying operation is the logistical difficulty of ensuring that any extracted stone is moved away from the quarry basin in a timely manner so as to avoid it becoming congested with material. As such, we were able to watch a steady stream of dumper truck vehicles transporting the extracted stone from the quarry to the cutting sheds for processing. And it was here we headed next. Extracted block stone Inspecting the wire saw Once the block stone has been extracted, it is cut by a series of three computerised saws, each of which is capable of cutting the stone in a different way and producing a variety of finishes. This was likened to the slicing of a loaf of bread – first of all the uneven ‘crust’ is cut off by a wire saw to provide a flat surface and then it is ‘sliced’ into slabs by large circular saws. We then watched the stone being moved to the secondary cutting sheds where it can be cut into more intricate shapes and sizes, using digital templates to ensure that the most efficient use is made of any individual slab. Any excess is then recycled and crushed to form aggregate or walling material, with even the smallest of stones capable of being crushed on-site to form sand that can be sold to the building industry. In the cutting sheds           Cutting the stone - part one     Cutting the stone - part two   The final part of our tour took us to the robot sheds; recent, state-of-the-art additions to the quarry that, based on computer programming, are able to shape stone with incredible accuracy– much like a 3D printer. It was explained that the robots are able to produce stoneware with a greater degree of accuracy and consistency than a stone-mason ever could by hand; this is an important factor when, for example, like-for-like replacements are required for renovation works in listed buildings. It was heartening to hear, though, that Johnson Wellfield still insists on employing manually-skilled stone-masons to operate the robots, benefitting from their unrivalled knowledge of the material. Robot-controlled cutting A hand-cut tribute to Compo At the end of the tour, there was time to reflect on how the overall sustainability of the quarrying process we saw. It is clear that practically no material is wasted - and of course, the quarry sites themselves are required by the planning process to be reclaimed – potentially as future development land. Indeed, once the Thewlis Lane quarry site (where our tour started) reaches the end of its life in 2025, it is expected to be infilled with shale, compacted and developed for housing, with an allocation in the emerging Kirklees Local Plan for over 300 homes. Who knows, perhaps some of these new houses may even be built out using the same material that was once buried beneath them. Our thanks go to the Myers Group for providing a very enjoyable and informative afternoon.

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