Wave Energy Leader Tees Off On UK Nuke Deal

There’s a zero-sum aspect to the development of alternative energy resources in this era of encroaching climate change, as the different technologies vie for precious policy support.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the big marine energy players in the United Kingdom has come out swinging after the announcement on Monday that the U.K. government had reached agreement with EDF Group to build Britain’s first new nuclear power station since the mid 1990s.

hinkley nuclear

What it could look like (image via EDF Energy)

The attack on the government’s decision comes from Aquamarine Power CEO Martin McAdam, whose company is now testing its second full-scale prototype, the Oyster 800, at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, Scotland.

McAdam said that “overall, I have no problem with the construction of a new nuclear plant in the UK.” But that didn’t stop him from questioning pretty much everything about the deal that the government said will give the country a sparkling new clean energy source for 7 percent of its electricity beginning in 2023.

Right now, strictly based on the price the government is guaranteeing for new power generation – known as the “strike price” in the U.K. – a wave energy guy like McAdam would seem to have little to complain about. The draft strike price announced a few months ago for wave (tidal, too) is £305 per megawatt-hour, which would hold through to 2020. Onshore wind was set at £100/MWh, offshore at £155 – and both decline over time.

The strike price for EDG Group on the nuke plant is £92.50/MWh, but McAdam cited myriad possible hidden costs (and he wasn’t alone).

“My real challenge is the total lack of transparency and fudging of the actual costs and long-term implications for this and future generations,” McAdam wrote. “Moving costs from the electricity bill payer to the tax-payer is obscuring the real costs of nuclear. One thing that renewable energy has over nuclear is that the costs are known precisely. Renewable energy does not carry the environmental and legacy issues of the nuclear industry.”

Nuclear power does present a bit of a tough issue for climate-change fighters — or at least, a lot of people think it should. That’s premise of the Pandora’s Promise, the pro-nuke film from dedicated green Robert Stone.

But in terms even less varnished that McAdam, UK environmentalists were having none of it with the new nuke plant.

“The quickest way to end our costly fossil fuel dependency is though energy efficiency and renewable power, not new reactors that will suck up precious investment and take years to complete,” Friends of the Earth’s Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett said in a statement. “Investment in German renewables has led to a massive fall in the wholesale cost of electricity. The Government should be following this example, instead of locking the UK into costly nuclear power for decades.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • José DeSouza

    In addtion to inherent risks and cost overruns, nukes – just like coal burners – block progress because they’re essentially baseload generators that don’t go along well with fluctuating abundant, clean and increasingly cost-effective renewables. Just do the math: http://energyshouldbe.org/download.html