Guest Blog: Mervyn Bowden – The custodians of nuclear power generation

During my many years in the industry I’ve been very fortunate to have visited a very wide range of electricity generation sites, from the traditional oil, coal and gas plants […]

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By ELN reporter

During my many years in the industry I’ve been very fortunate to have visited a very wide range of electricity generation sites, from the traditional oil, coal and gas plants through to biomass and renewables like wind, solar and anaerobic digestion.

This allows a reasonable perspective on the prevailing risks as well as the economics in terms of funding the primary plant and subsequent running costs. It’s fair to say the economics, because of various Government interventions, have both created significant uncertainty and massively variable outcomes for investment.

It was only this week that I was fortunate enough to visit my first nuclear power station – Hinkley Point B near Bridgwater in Somerset courtesy of EDF Energy.

Over the years nuclear power has been a major political football, decried by environmentalists but in recent years, despite genuine and major concerns around Three Mile Island and more recently, Fukushima, there seems to be a general acceptance that nuclear can be part of a logical generation mix. It can provide baseload certainty, for countries such as the UK, which can be paired with renewables intermittency and demand-side reduction measures.

Under measures such as the Electricity Market Reform’s Contract for Difference, nuclear power could show it is significantly cheaper per MWh in the longer term than the higher cost of subsidising renewable alternatives, especially when balancing considerations are factored in.

Not only that but nuclear provides a genuinely lower-carbon solution.

My impressions of Hinkley Point B

The plant is absolutely dominated by an inherent passion for safety and security, handled in a very professional way. No one is allowed to enter or remain on site if they fail any of the extensive security checks and any breach of regulations, however small, is dealt with efficiently.

The station conducts tours around the facility and while articulating how a nuclear power plant works to groups of 10-year olds and upwards as well as elderly groups takes considerable communication skills, it is achieved in a pleasant but pragmatic way.

I was impressed with…

Aside of  the “givens” of safety and security, I’ve got to say the whole site was spotlessly clean, well sign posted and intuitively laid out. How nuclear electricity is generated is very well explained with the aid of a well-equipped visitor centre showing the makeup of the key components and processes.

Most impressive of all?

The display on the tour which demonstrates that everything from Brazilian nut kernels to day-to-day foods like bananas are radioactive when measured on a Geiger counter. Considering we were adjacent to two nuclear reactors, the background reading on said counter was next to zero – massively impressive (and reassuring!).

But what’s the point of the blog?

Those who are against nuclear power generation for whatever reason should take the time and make the effort to see what actually goes on at one of these enormous plants. They could not fail to be impressed by the very professional efforts of all the staff involved who contribute to providing the country with reliable, predictable baseload power at a time when traditional forms of generation, including some of the earlier nuclear plants, are being decommissioned.

It all augurs well for the construction of the adjacent Hinkley Point C station with all the benefits of local employment in the long term which this presents. All this in a framework of continuous environmental monitoring and instant reaction to any contraventions of acceptable practice.

If all industries operated like this, continually learning lessons from earlier incidents like Fukushima and radically changing their practices, many examples of which are already in place such as flexible fuel rods to mitigate seismic events, safety would genuinely become a way of life…

Mervyn Bowden is the Managing Director of Intuitive Energy Solutions Ltd.