Work on Hinkley Point C nuclear plant to go ahead amid nationwide lockdown
Construction on the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant site in Somerset is set to continue as Government Ministers give the green light for major construction sites to remain open amid the UK-wide coronavirus lockdown.
EDF Energy, one of the UK’s Big Six energy suppliers and the proprietor of the nuclear plant, has said continuing critical work on the project will help “preserve the UK’s specialist nuclear supply chain and its skilled workers”, which the company asserts is crucial not only for the economy, but also in the effort to reach net-zero emissions targets.
This comes after Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, stated on Good Morning Britain that major construction works should continue and construction workers should still be going to work, despite not being on the ‘key workers’ list.
However, more than half of the Hinkley Point C workforce has been reduced to increase social distancing and prevent the spread of the virus, with further reductions set to come as works on the site progress.
An EDF spokesperson said the company was working with trade unions and those affected to limit the toll of reduced work.
“We are aware that many people and families in the locality depend on us and we will work with them to mitigate the impact of our reduced activity. We will consider how our resources can be used to help the community in the current crisis”
Various safety measures have been introduced to protect those continuing work on the project, including temperature checks for workers entering the site, split shifts, additional bus services to and from the site, and staggered breaks to avoid crowding in shared spaces.
New Covid-19 social distancing rules The Government has introduced stringent social distancing measures requiring all households to isolate. You must stay at home, and can only leave to get essential supplies, which should be done as infrequently as possible; for essential travel to and from work, where working-from-home is absolutely not possible; to provide care for the vulnerable; and for one period of exercise per day. Be sure to check official sources like the UK Gov website, the World Health Organisation, and the NHS for updates and advice.
The benefits of Hinkley Point C
The Hinkley Point C nuclear project has so far injected more than £2bn to the south-west’s economy through contracts and investment in community enterprises. A total of £4bn is expected to be generated over the life of the project, which is set for completion in 2025.
The Government has previously shown support for the nuclear plant, citing its economic benefits, the low-carbon energy it will produce, and its reliability as an energy source - renewable sources like solar and wind may experience lulls in generation that could leave supply outstripped by demand without sufficient storage mechanisms.
The most recent spike in demand has occurred during the Covid-19 outbreak and UK-wide lockdown. According to Eurelectric, a pan-European trade association, energy demand in Britain has increased by 7%, although this is likely to be offset by reduced manufacturing and commercial activity.
Interestingly, current social distancing measures could set a precedent for mass home-working and higher sustained demand, for which a low carbon, reliable energy source would indeed be helpful. Although, there is, of course, a tradeoff between low-carbon and sustainability as well as toxic waste, a notoriously hazardous environmental challenge.
Can Hinkley Point C help us reach net-zero emissions?
Electricity generated in nuclear reactors, like the one being constructed at Hinkley Point, is produced with the use of radioactive materials in a process called fission.
Radioactive materials are split at the atomic level to create chain reactions that produce vast amounts of heat, which in turn is used to produce steam that is fed through a turbine to generate electricity. Throughout this process no greenhouse gasses are produced or emitted.
In 2019, natural gas and coal made up almost 40% of the electricity generated in the UK, while 23% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions - over 100 metric tonnes - came from energy supply.
When fully operational, Hinkley Point C is expected to offset nine million tonnes of carbon emissions every year by providing seven percent of the UK’s low carbon electricity.
Having said that, the Hinkley Point plant is a faint figure in the distance, and amidst a global pandemic, workers are quite rightly concerned about the effects of continued works.