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« The silence of the wells | Main | Game just changed again »

Oh no! It's DECC!


In Parliament yesterday, energy minister Greg Hands explained that DECC is organising a modular nuclear reactor competition for the UK.

Following the announcement made at the Budget, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) launched the first phase of a competition to identify the best value small modular reactor for the UK on the 17th March. This development builds on a previous announcement, made at Autumn Statement 2015, that DECC would conduct this competition to help pave the way towards building one of the world’s first small modular reactors in the UK.

Surely one of the most important advantages of small modular nuclear reactors is that you can have competition among many suppliers. Different niches, including "best value", can be found from the bottom up.

Why would we want a top-down process to find the best value modular reactor? And surely DECC are the last people on earth who you would want running it?

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Reader Comments (115)


Mar 22, 2016 at 7:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

@golf charlie: the answer is obvious. We need 42 suppliers of MNRs, 54 if you are a Hitchhiker nerd like me.

Mar 22, 2016 at 7:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

@Dodgy Geezer, Mar 22, 2016 at 12:54 PM

I believe that you can buy these items already 'off-the-shelf', or with a short lead time. Why don't we buy 2 or 3 different types, and put them in the ground in a convenient spot on the Hinkley C site?

They would take up very little room - all the transport facilities and environmental agreements are already in place, and there is even a Grid supply line waiting for energy.

Oh, I forgot - if we did that it would demonstrate that the proposed Hinkley C station is a complete and expensive white elephant....

That would be the sensible thing to do. Introduce competition and each supplier will strive to make their solution the lowest initial and ongoing cost through continued R&D to improve their product. Safety can still be maintained as it is in the aircraft industry where Airbus and Boeing continue to develop existing aircraft models to make them better, lighter, stronger, faster, more efficient and lower cost.

Governments should never pick, promote or invest in the next winner. The free market determines winner technolgies.

@Bryan, Mar 22, 2016 at 3:56 PM

This is a favorite ploy of people who themselves don't have a clue.

Instead of frankly saying 'we just don't know' .
they run a competition to find out if someone out there does.

If they find something of substance they can then act as 'expert judges' and award contract to winner.

As the competition is being run by DECC "don't have a clue" is entirely appropriate.

@jamesp, Mar 22, 2016 at 5:23 PM

Hmm. We have a British manufacturer with an international reputation that has them on the shelf. We will therefore end up with an undeveloped French or Chinese version that is initially £500 cheaper but ultimately £1bn more expensive and ten years late...


iirc RR has had a reactor running for decades in Derby

Mar 22, 2016 at 8:57 PM | Registered CommenterPcar

Just a small point; Greg Hands is not an Energy Minister, he is Chief Secretary to the Treasury - ie he works for George Osborne rather than Amber Rudd.

Mar 22, 2016 at 9:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterANH

NCC 1701E, it is also important that DECC have correctly sanitised telephones, before they can even begin to consider making a decision about the colour.

Mar 22, 2016 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

ANH, 9:39pm: Not a small point, but a very important one. Cameron and Osborne, and under them, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury have been using a very vicious choke-chain to whip-in other Government Departments (and their Ministers) to their agenda (aka, the long term-economic plan). I doubt if Rudd or DECC had any say in this announcement.

Mar 22, 2016 at 11:01 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

I'm not wholly down on DECC as I'm acquainted with a couple of their retained specialists - who repeatedly say very sane things....

I'd agree with an earlier commenter who described them as schizophrenic and would prepend that with "chronically" ...

The organisation is a truly artless contrivance dreamed up by some profoundly dim bulbs in the intellectual wasteland at the "top" of the Labour Party at the time - and like much of quango-dom they got their chums in and a few motivated agitators from the NGOs. I know of two FoIs that have asked about allegiances and connections to eco-activist organisations that have been "slimed off".

Some are well aware that if something real + physical isn't started soon there will be trouble on scale that probably has hardly been seen in living memory - they are up against delusional twerps with absolutely no grasp of the task to hand who are backed up by CCC who are simply ludicrous....

I hope I'm wrong that calamitous consequences of of 10+ years of idiocy are going to happen - but at the present rate of "progress" the emergence of a Nigerian "power grid" is looking distinctly possible.

What a mess

Mar 22, 2016 at 11:29 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I haven't seen the DECC bureaucratic definition of 'best value'. It must exist in their proscribed lexicon of terms. Believe me when I say it will almost certainly not mean what most of us think it might, or indeed what the individual words mean (COD).
It may now be prudent to start planning one's route to the hills.

Mar 23, 2016 at 2:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterManfred

Few people have PhD's in climatology, so when Dr Hans Jelbring (one who has) strongly supports what I have said I would suggest you ought to heed this new 21st century breakthrough in our understanding of planetary temperatures and heat transfer mechanisms.

So please note this strong support from Dr Hans Jelbring (PhD climatology) in an email I have just received reading ...

"Dear all, Including politicians, laymen and scientists.

I am strongly supporting what Doug is writing below based on the fact being one of few scientists who actually have a doctorate in climatology. All of you who believe in authority should believe what Doug is saying below which is according to my own research and what some qualified scientists have told since many years. ....

I would also like to give credit to Doug Cotton who never seems to give up in his fight against ignorance among both politicians and scientists."

(There's more detail at )

Mar 23, 2016 at 2:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhysics Researcher

Dr Roy Spencer recently killed comments on his blog because of the turds left by Doug Cotton.

Mar 23, 2016 at 2:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

@golf charlie: I believe that senior DECC civil servants issue their edicts whilst semi-permantly immersed in a warm bath.

Mar 23, 2016 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

"Few people have PhD's in climatology, so when Dr Hans Jelbring (one who has) strongly supports what I have said I would suggest you ought to heed... "

Because something is rare, it doesn't make it valuable.

I'd trust anyone with a 1st or 2.1 in Engineering over this chancer.

Mar 23, 2016 at 9:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterNial

NCCetc: Re the answer to the universe and all that. Yep. It's base 13 (so 54). But I've always loved the fact that in binary it's 101010. It's as if the answer to the universe is that it's an on/off existence.

Mar 23, 2016 at 9:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

@Physics Researcher

... All of you who believe in authority...

Er... that rules out all scientists, then....

Mar 23, 2016 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

They have to feel they're in control even when they don't know arse from elbow.

Mar 23, 2016 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

This is the government who sold the Harriers at scrap value (just after an expensive refit programme) so we have nothing to land on these fancy new carriers whilst simultaneously keeping the crap Tornado (whose main claim to fame is being shot down a lot while failing to destroy minor airfields).

This is the government behind the Hinckley C white elephant which even pro-nuclear folk pray doesn't go ahead.

I trust the vital decision this time is left to people who actually have a clue.

Mar 23, 2016 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

There is no demand in the UK.
Latest Iea elec. data ( Jan -Dec) show a 3.6% decline of electricity supplied in the UK.
This is the biggest decline seen in Europe.
At the same time a big increase in typical Uk holiday destinations such as Iberia and Ireland is seen ( in particular during the summer months.)
They clearly mirror each other.
Why would you want to build a capital intensive plant in the UK.
There is no market for the product.

Mar 23, 2016 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

Nial & DG (yes, I’ve still got my eye on you…): do not dismiss Physics Researcher (a pseudonym, I assume) quite so lightly. Go to the site mentioned; I suspect that you will find it giving supported arguments that many here will agree with – it ain’t the fault of CO2, human-produced or not, and there is little, if anything, that we can do about it but observe and extrapolate future possibilities. Meanwhile, let’s continue the advance of the human race – you never know, we might gain the capability of reaching for the stars, something obedience to the doom-mongers will never allow us.

Mar 23, 2016 at 12:52 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Martin Reed, the thing about those unable to distinguish their arse from their elbows, is they do wipe their elbows, regular as clockwork, and are very pleased with the results. The DECC has the cleanest elbows in the Civil Service.

Mar 23, 2016 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

'Small nuclear' reactors - the explanatory genius of Roger Harrabin. Several small things are equivalent to a big thing.

Mar 23, 2016 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

There are a LOT of SMRs around - floating in the ocean pushing nuclear warships around. This design COULD be used commercially, but you have to realize that naval nuclear power plants have a LOT of characteristics that are not necessary (or even desireable) for commercial power plants, and that make them even more expensive than commercial designs of the same power ratings. But the military capabilities that they provide make that expense worthwhile, sort-of.

The SMRs that are now being proposed would be small enough to be built in factories and shipped to the site where they would be "dropped in" to an array of modules that could be easily added to as the need rose. It is very attractive because it does not tie up a lot of capital for a long period of time.

However, they also want to incoroporate "passive safety systems" into the design, and these are very tricky to design, and to PROVE that they will work. I evaluated the safety of the AP600, the AP1000, and the ESBWR at the US NRC, and I can say that it was not at all easy to determine that these designs would work. And there are STILL aspects of these designs where there is uncertainty about the passive safety systems. We will not really know if they would work until these systems are tested at full scale, in a real plant, during either a test or an "event".

So, it is all about proving that your new innovative design will work like you think it will, and I (as an old guy who has seen more screwups than you CAN imagine) can think up a LOT of weaknesses in these designs, starting with the idea of installing new modules in an operating power plant. Construction and operation going on at the same time ALWAYS creates "interesting interactions and events".

The nuclear industry really does not need these sorts of things, because the Greens just use them to demonize the technology. Better to stay with a known design and build up an industrial base and a base of expertise, and then take some steps to try to innovate. The financial people really hate this though, so it will be very difficult to do.

Never underestimate the influence of the financial people or the lawyers to drive a project in the wrong direction.

Mar 23, 2016 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterrxc

rxc, thanks for that. Nuclear is not my field at all, but you have expressed what I have thought for a while, particularly in the final line.

What is wrong with updating SMR technology, as used in Ships and Subs? Or even building a nuclear sub, parking it at 100 feet below sea level, with an extension lead coming out of it, that can be plugged into the grid?

Mar 23, 2016 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Meanwhile the UK has 140 tonnes of plutonium that could produce electricity for perhaps 'thousands of years' but the NDA seem to be utterly incapable of making up its mind on which option to go for; somewhat unbelievable once you realise there are only 2 options; Prism and Canmox and we could do both at the same time. Yes perhaps we could have been net CO2 free by now with a bit less civil service lethargy.

"A decision is expected to be made by ministers on how to proceed during 2015/16". Well we sure missed the 2015 date - maybe this year, maybe sometime, maybe never.......


Mar 23, 2016 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

JamesG, does Scotland have the necessary skill and experience to build and maintain SMR's with an excellent proven track record?

(please say yes!) It could help enhance Scotland's position, whatever the political future. Though some politicians within the current UK would definitely NOT like it, in terms of shifting power.

Mar 23, 2016 at 4:17 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Mar 23, 2016 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Funny how people seek promotion at all costs and earn so much money that they become scared shitless when making decisions which could make a real difference.
Cameron will probably not make a decision about Heathrow because he promised us the greenest (AKA dumbest) government ever.

Mar 23, 2016 at 4:27 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Scottish engineers can do anything.

Mar 23, 2016 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG


".. All of you who believe in authority...Er... that rules out all scientists, then...."

...Nial & DG (yes, I’ve still got my eye on you…): do not dismiss Physics Researcher (a pseudonym, I assume) quite so lightly...

Oh, it's not I who dismisses Physics Researcher so lightly. It's Physics 101 that does that. See Richard Feynman on the subject...

I'm sure you have seen that clip a thousand times before - I'm equally sure you haven't learnt anything from it...

Mar 23, 2016 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

@JamesG: Scottish engineers have to sign the pledge, which is to believe in IPCC pseudoscience, before being allowed to work in Scotland.

It's changing in England because UK Government is led by morons with too little self-will to oppose the truth. Sturgeon, on the other hand, is your version of Mugabe, so will destroy the Scots' economy before changing her position in ANY matter of policy.

Mar 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

JamesG, good! I respect Scottish engineering, amongst other skills, but will the politicians!
(no need to answer)

Mar 23, 2016 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

If what remains of the British middle class is fleeing the islands and its cost inflation as a result of consumption taxes and rentier costs and the population is exploding as the global poor travel to where the money is (London) then you will witness the current very strange British energy balance.
Again you are experiencing imploding electricity demand in the context of large scale net migration inflows.
Under normal circumstances this is beyond strange.
However we are not living in normal times.
Dickensian living conditions have returned with a vengeance.
Non transport energy per capita inputs have reached historic post war lows.

Mar 23, 2016 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

"...updating SMR technology, as used in Ships and Subs" is what was done to get the current set of commercial light water reactors that produce most of the nuclear electricity on the planet. Several countries (UK, France, even the US, decided to try out gas cooled reactors, which have a number of advantages, but also disadvantages. Liquid metal designs were tried out in submarines in the US and in the USSR, but that proved to be unwise for something that floated in/under the ocean. The US, the Russians, the UK, and the French did quite a bit with non-ship-based liquid metal designs, in the interests of breeding plutonium, but the Greens have put a complete stop to that idea - "it would send the wrong message to the rest of the world, who might think this is a good way to make bombs". The rest of the world did not care that the West decided to give up the technology, and built the bombs anyhow.

You can make the reactors small - there was even a fad in the US about 30 years ago to build plants of about 600MW, instead of the 1000-1500 MW size that was common. The idea was that the smaller plants seemed to operate better. It was a false analysis, based on well-managed plants vs poorly-managed ones. The larger ones can run just as well, if their management is good.

There is a LOT of technical/human infrastructure needed to maintain nuclear plants. Security guards, technical staff, procurements and QA people. With a larger plant, you get more electricity for the same human cost. The modular plants hope that the smaller designs will be less prone to expensive failures. They do not realize that an "interesting event" in one module in a 6 module plant will cause the other modules to all be shutdown, until the event is investigated and resolved. If the event involves a release of radioactive material into the plant, it can contaminate lots of common supporting systems, making the entire plant very expensive to operate, and effectively turning the entire investment into a very expensive millstone that the company cannot escape. Ask Tokyo Electric about this.

Mar 23, 2016 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterrxc

Dodgy Geezer: have you visited the site that Physics Researcher linked to? My own reading of it is that is supports what Richard Feynman has said – “If the evidence does not support the theory, it is the theory that is wrong.” I am pretty sure that is something that even I can understand. I am beginning to suspect you do not like me.

Mar 23, 2016 at 8:03 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

One other thing. There was a proposal to build off-shore nuclear plants on floating rafts, surrounded by low "atol islands", with cables going ashore. I think that someone actually built a factory down here in Florida to build them. No one was willing to park one off the east coast of the US, where a nasty hurricane could do some really nasty damage. I do not think that there was ever a license issued to construct one. Ships can move out of the way of storms (or submerge). Land-based plants just pour a lot of concrete to build really impervious structures. Fukishima was destroyed by flooding, not the force of the tsunami wave. The flooding was entirely foreseeable, and was actually foreen by the Japanese ancestors, who planted stones on the shore warning future residents to build nothing to seaward of these marks. And then the Japanese ignored the French experience at Blayais in the winter of 1999 and did not re-assess and backfit anti-flooding and robustness capabilities into those plants. The US required plants to be able to deal with this event - not the Japanese.

Fukishima was a "cultural accident" - the words of the Japanese Diet, not mine.

So, there is a LOT to think about in nuclear design, and I would say that the vast majority of the people who advocate for various new plant designs really do not understand what they are talking about. Rockover used to say that none of his critics who said his reactors were too expensive and too large had ever had to build a real reactor and make it work reliably.

Mar 23, 2016 at 9:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterrxc

rxc, thank you for the additional info. I have never been anti-nuclear, but wary of it. What you say about Fukishima matches what I had previously understood.

The Japanese and Germans are now suffering from the panic responses to Fukishima. UK Energy Policy is still suffering from Chernobyl and CND, meanwhile the UK population is increasingly suffering the consequences of Green Blob thinking.

We need small nuclear power stations, however it is a taboo subject, that must not be mentioned.

Mar 23, 2016 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

...I am beginning to suspect you do not like me....

RR, I didn't know that you cared! But it was the argument from authority that turned me off. Rest assured that I have seen gravitational warming theory before...

Mar 23, 2016 at 10:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer


… it was the argument from authority that turned me off.
You do have a point, there; however, who do you go to for that mysterious medical problem? Your GP or your cleaning lady? There has to be some credibility retained for a person’s qualifications; it is up to them to ensure that you are not disabused.

By the way… “I'm sure you have seen that clip a thousand times before - I'm equally sure you haven't learnt anything from it...” Rather a cruel slap down, I thought.

Mar 23, 2016 at 11:08 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Dodgy Geezer, which way round does Gravitational Warming Theory spin down the plug hole?

Mar 23, 2016 at 11:10 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The UK pioneered civil nuclear power starting from Calder Hall, connected 1956. All the Magnox are now retired, but we still have (7) AGR and (1) PWR left. Surely if we could build and operate them as far back as 1956, we should be able to do so now?

Mar 24, 2016 at 1:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterBudgie

Budgie, I share your sense of frustration! Man shot to the moon in 1969, and has not been any further. Trans Atlantic scheduled flights are not likely to be supersonic again. But we do have billions of pounds of electricty generators that don't work reliably.

Mar 24, 2016 at 2:53 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Calder Hall took two years from breaking ground to grid power. You could not prepare the materials for submission for an application to start in twice that time nowadays.

Mar 24, 2016 at 4:34 AM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

Minister Amber Rudd MP gave an absolutely incompetent performance on Radio 4 BBC just finished now.

The Minister raised several points which were instantly refuted by the BBC presenter.

Listen, if you get a chance and be amazed.

Mar 24, 2016 at 7:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterBryan

Greg Hands is nothing to do with DECC nor is he "Energy Minister." He is Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Mar 24, 2016 at 8:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterGillespie Robertson

Major 9.6% drop in UK December elec. production (relative to Dec 2014)
December & Jan being the biggest production / consumption months for obvious reasons.
Unlike air conditioning US and med countries.
However major drops of electricity production observed in North America during December.
4.1% in the states and 6.5 % in Canada.
Given the energy intensity of North America these are huge numbers and are having a major effect on the overall Oecd energy balance for 2015.
IEA data.

Mar 24, 2016 at 8:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork

Uk electricity production for 2015 now decisively below the 2005 -2014 range for the entire year, especially near the end of the year according to Iea graphical data.
Imports also weakly negative for 2015.
We are witnessing a unprecedented structural change in UK production / consumption of electricity.
Despite massive population movements.

Mar 24, 2016 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork


...You do have a point, there; however, who do you go to for that mysterious medical problem? Your GP or your cleaning lady? There has to be some credibility retained for a person’s qualifications...

That old cliche? As I thought, you are slow to learn points of principle...

It is quite reasonable to go to a doctor, or a car mechanic, or an architect, when you have need of specific services that they can provide. But if you go to them because of a certificate pinned up in their foyer, show no other understanding of their proposals and simply obey them because of their qualification, you are operating on faith.

The service they deliver might still be satisfactory, of course. But, in the case of the doctor, If I have an ear infection I expect to be given, perhaps, Flucloxacillin, and will take that treatment based on my knowledge of the action of narrow-spectrum antibiotics. I would not mindlessly comply with the doctor's prescription if, for example, she suggested that a replacement hip joint would solve the problem.

I am always staggered to hear this argument put forward in the climate change context. It is not only deceitful, but breathtakingly arrogant - suggesting, as it does, that once a person has joined a 'qualifications club' their pronouncements should not be subject to question by persons outside that club. Intellectual fascism of the purest kind, and a strong indication that those pronouncements will not stand up under scrutiny...

Mar 24, 2016 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer


...Uk electricity production for 2015 now decisively below the 2005 -2014 range for the entire year, especially near the end of the year according to Iea graphical data.
Imports also weakly negative for 2015.
We are witnessing a unprecedented structural change in UK production / consumption of electricity.
Despite massive population movements....

Keep an eye on the water situation as well. If anything water provision in SE England is in an even worse state than electricity. So long as it rains continually everything will be fine, but if we have a dry summer....

Mar 24, 2016 at 9:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

DG: please read the full sentence to get the context. I was stating that, as with all other qualifications, most people respect that piece of paper on the wall up to and until the owner of it betraying that trust. As you are obviously a poor reader (dim, or just dyslexic?), perhaps you should not be so bloody rude. Now, please explain why you think that Physics Researcher is so wrong in suggesting we look at that site, and consider its theories; please indicate why you think that it equates to a GP advising a hip replacement to resolve a sore ear. If all you can bleat about is: “Oooh, ‘e’s arguing from authority. Dat is so-o-o-o bad,” then I am afraid you do not have a leg to stand on, and deserve to go on the list reserved for those like Raff.

Mar 24, 2016 at 10:01 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

@Bryan: listened to Amber - not quite a car crash. However, the underlying tone was very defensive. In particular, there is great doubt about Hinkley Point construction in which her Brother apparently has a significant interest; he is also leader of the Remain Campaign.

More subtly, the Small Modular Reactor search is clearly affecting her because it can deliver whilst EDF may not. And with that SMR delivery goes the control over UK energy prices of the EU, with its demand that prices must go up.

So, it looks like Davey and Call-me agreed to high priced Hinkley Point to raise UK energy prices for their Common Purpose Masters, if true, clear evidence that we have a Quisling Government.

Mar 24, 2016 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

No shortage of water in Kerry.
It's been a very wet winter.
The few people who remain living in the extreme Sw of Ireland have had no access to company tokens and therefore no access to the pub, becoming more then slightly mad inside their atomised prisons.
The water shortage in the South east of England will be the result of usury dynamics rather then weather.
People flow to where the money is despite the extreme lack of local resources.
Company tokens only comes to Kerry when the orbital tourist route gets started again in the spring.
It's a absurd method to access tokens (todays oil rather then gold standard of Yesteryear)
One must waste vast amounts of oil so as to get access to what remains.
It maintains scarcity and I am afraid that is all that matters in today's world of structurally embedded usury.

Mar 24, 2016 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Dork of Cork


I heard Ms Rudd’s performance this morning and I thought it was less ministerial incompetence than, amazingly, BBC interviewer competence. At the end, where she was banging on about CO2, I was willing Justin Webb to ask what if Piers Corbyn was right and CO2 was a red herring, but of course that would probably have earned him instant dismissal…

Mar 24, 2016 at 1:26 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

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