Open cast coal mining at Druridge Bay

Below is a copy of the submission made by the Green Party regarding the application by Banks for an opencase coal mine at Druridge Bay in NE England.

2017 May 31 raly at Druridge Bay Inquiry

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Submission to Highthorn Inquiry from the NE Region of the Green Party

Planning Inspectorate Reference APP/P2935/V/16/3158266

The NE Region of the Green Party of England and Wales wishes to make the following objections to the proposal for open cast coal mining at Highthorn. The application embodies a quite unsustainable and irresponsible approach, both in terms of local impacts in the Druridge Bay area and wider consequences. Northumberland County Council made, we believe, a quite unsound decision in approving the application. The evidence actually indicates that current government policies and guidance ought to be interpreted as grounds for refusal.

We will focus on the first two items on the inspector’s list, though we also wish to make clear our endorsement of the arguments put forward by local residents via the Save Druridge Bay Campaign about other detrimental impacts such as noise, dust, road traffic and damage to the tourist economy.

We will argue that the proposal is unsound, contradicting the evidence about the urgent need to curtail all forms of coal mining. There is also compelling evidence that biodiversity across the country is at serious risk. Proposals threatening areas of particular wildlife significance cannot constitute the ‘sustainable development’ sought by the National Planning Policy Framework. Furthermore, this particular plan is ineffective, failing to deliver a plan for the long-term common good of the area. It is also not in accord with key national policies and international agreements.

First, however, we would ask the inquiry to reject a spurious argument that there is coal mining in other regions and countries and that it is therefore appropriate to mine coal at Highthorn. Such an argument has no legal validity. Indeed it is one that would justify all sorts of crime if accepted. In moral theory, one ‘wrong’ has ever legitimised another ‘wrong’.

Our main objections are as follows:

  1. There is now overwhelming evidence of the threat from climate change and the critical part played in that danger by the burning of coal.[i]This ‘climate emergency’ is the biggest issue of our lifetimes. Its resolution tops all other priorities. The priority now must be to leave all remaining coal in the ground, especially in richer countries such as the UK. It might be noted that when Peabody Coal, then the world’s largest private coal operator, went to court to challenge those calling for the rapid phase out of the coal industry, it lost.[ii]
  2. We note that, on November 4, 2016, the ‘Paris Agreement’ on climate change[iii]came into force, with legally binding commitments to act on rising global temperatures. This agreement has to be regarded as a minimum since the evidence now suggests that climate change and related warming is happening at an accelerating rate[iv]. UK government policy is founded, of course, on the 2008 Climate Change Act and the likelihood is the UK climate action will follow the Paris agreement.[v]
  3. We would further stress that there is no case for claiming that coal can be made clean’ via technological innovation.[vi]It is of course highly relevant that the DECC has stated that“he government is absolutely committed to phasing out power production from unabated coal by 2025 and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise”.[vii]The NPPF calls for “radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”. The Highthorn application clearly contradicts government intent, including recent planning guidance.[viii]
  4. The costs of ‘renewables’ and batteries continue to fall each year, as is well documented. Indeed so rapid are the advances that the argument about the ‘need’ for more coal production is undermined by those very developments alone. We are living through an energy revolution and it would be quite unsound to ignore its impacts on the current energy supply and demand.
  5. The overall ‘architecture’ of the energy system is changing too, partly due to digital technologies. The latter favour flexibility rather than volume, as in previous systems of high volume coal production and centralised power generation. Investment in developments such as that proposed for Highthorn are not only damaging but also retrograde.[ix]
  6. Remaining coal is now best left in the ground for the sake of containing carbon emissions and resulting temperature rises[x]. The coal market is heading for crisis. In particular, a so-called ‘carbon bubble’, with ‘stranded assets’,[xi]is dangerously building, as climate change policies further bite into coal consumption. Power generation from coal in the UK is falling by record amounts[xii]and many other countries are seeking cutbacks, including China.[xiii]This point raises questions about the capacity of operators such as Banks to deliver commitments to restore the site once mined. There is sound evidence to suggest that companies dependent on income from coal could face real financial difficulties in the near future.[xiv]
  7. With regard to ‘question 2’, it is widely recognised that the Druridge Bay area is of special landscape and wildlife significance. However, recent evidence has spotlighted the parlous state of biodiversity in the UK.[xv]It demonstrates that core biodiversity areas must be protected from disturbance. The impact from open cast coal mining cannot but be serious. In the case of Highthorn, coal mining would seriously contradict stated government policy in the field of biodiversity and ecosystems.[xvi]
  8. Regulation of open case coal mining has a poor history. There is no reason to make the gratuitous assumption that ‘Highthorn’ will be better, whatever the applicants may claim.[xvii]We would support the argument of the RSPB that there is evidence of systematic regulatory and market failure.[xviii]Debate in parliament last year spotlighted just how high the costs of restoration on existing sites have become.[xix]
  9. The very notion of ‘reclamation’ flows, of course, from the degradation of land caused by open cast coal mining. That, in turn, begs questions about the extent to which land can be fully restored. Elsewhere, we provide evidence about the capacity of open cast operators to honour whatever commitments they undertake in the light of both developments in the current coal market and the developing ‘carbon bubble’. ‘Non-restoration’ is a real possibility.[xx]
  10. We would naturally endorse the Government’s ‘Natural Choice’ White Paper of 2011[xxi]when it stated “we will take a strategic approach to planning for nature… We will retain the protection and improvement of the natural environment as core objectives of the planning system. …We will improve the quality and increase the value of the natural environment across England. “
  11. In conclusion the NE Green Party calls for the rejection of the Bank application. Its costs outweigh any benefits, the latter being, at best very short-term (the lifetime of the site working) and, more likely, uncertain in the context of rapidly changing energy markets. The legacy would be severe ad unnecessary damage to an area much cherished across the region and beyond, with better options for truly sustainable development foregone.
  12. We propose instead, following the spirit of the above white paper, a network of nature reserves expanded across the whole of Druridge Bay and its immediate hinterland, creating a world-class example of biodiversity action planning.[xxii]It could be coupled to ‘wildlife tourism’ and other compatible recreational opportunities all of which can feed money into the local economy on a lasting basis. At the same time, we support the expansion of renewable energy and energy conservation programmes in the area. These two goals can be harmonised for the sustainable common good of all.[xxiii]


References

[i]For an overview of why coal must be rapidly phased out, see:
http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/decrease-coal-use#.WBy12XecaWYand http://oneworld.org/2016/09/26/global-warming-flashpoint-could-be-reached-by-2050-warn-scientists/.
Some key data sets are laid out here: http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~stefan/5datasets_rahmstorf.pdf
Recent evidence is summarised here:
https://newrepublic.com/article/136987/recalculating-climate-math. ‘
See also:
http://responsiblescientists.org(statement by 375 leading scientists, including 30 Nobel Prize winners); https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306531229_Limiting_global_warming_to_2_C_What_do_the_latest_mitigation_studies_tell_us_about_costs_technologies_and_other_impacts;
http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v5/n6/full/nclimate2572.html;
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/why-are-we-waiting;

The WMO has produced a new study of global temperatures:
http://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/carbon-dioxide-levels-atmosphere-spike

[ii]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/may/11/coal-made-its-best-case-against-climate-change-and-lost

[iii]http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.phpand http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/27/contents

[iv]http://capacity4dev.ec.europa.eu/unep/document/emissions-gap-report-2016-unep-synthesis-report; http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/news/20161017/

[v]https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/uk-action-following-paris/

[vi]Fixes’ such as carbon capture and storage are still not proven technologies. Assuming they work and can avoid attendant risks (carbon leakage, etc), their deployment could not come soon enough to make any material difference and in any case they fail to solve other problems inherent in the ‘coal cycle’. See: http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/02/carbon-capture-and-storage-time-to-bury-the-myth/and https://www.technologyreview.com/s/516166/what-carbon-capture-cant-do/. Indeed some ‘clean coal’ projects have been rather a disaster eg https://www.cato.org/blog/admitting-futuregens-failureThe evidence suggests that ‘clean coal; is an oxymoron (http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a4947/4339171/and http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2015/jun/10-reasons-clean-coal-is-a-marketing-myth)

[vii]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/06/03/government-denies-watering-down-coal-power-phase-out/

[viii]http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/guidance/renewable-and-low-carbon-energy/developing-a-strategy-for-renewable-and-low-carbon-energy/

[ix]Currently, peak demand for electricity in Britain is some 60GW for a very short time on the coldest day. Baseload demand is around 30GW. The total generating capacity available is some 85GW. Energy efficiency has reduced electricity demand by 25TWh since 2010. A McKinsey report for the Government estimates that by 2030 demand could be reduced by a further 23% while reducing consumer bills. For a DECC response to the possibilities, see: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/246125/government_response_edr_consultation.pdf.

Solar electricity from solar power is now cheaper than Hinkley having fallen by half in the last five years. Solar panels now provide about 1GW, half of which was delivered in 18 months. In cloudy Britain, solar exceeded coal over the last 6 months. Globally, renewables overtook coalas the world’s largest source of power capacity (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/renewables-have-overtaken-coal-the-iea-says-its-a-turning-point/; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/25/renewables-made-up-half-of-net-electricity-capacity-added-last-year;http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/iea-ups-renewable-forecast-13–hails-impressive-progress-of-pv-manufacturers_100026637/#axzz4P98hgmHb).

The data indicates that policies based on inflexible system (eg coal mining and centralised generating plant) are likely to be unproductive investments, regardless of other considerations. Investment in an integrated mix of renewables, and in efficiency and conservation programmes is truly ‘sustainable development’ (on efficiency, see: http://www.iea.org/eemr16/and http://www.climateworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/ExecSummary_How-Energy-Efficiency-Cuts-Costs-For-A-2-Degree-Future.pdf.
For an overview of the renewables revolution from the International Energy Agencysee: https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2016/october/medium-term-renewable-energy-market-report-2016.html
See also: http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_KeyFindings1.pdf. This report from President Obama’s advisors demolishes one common myth about renewables and obstacles to their deployment: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/page/files/20160616_cea_renewables_electricgrid.pdf

[x]http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v517/n7533/full/nature14016.html

[xi]Several references can be found here: http://www.carbontracker.org/?s=carbon+bubble
See also:
http://blog.ucsusa.org/tag/king-coals-stages-of-grief#.WBy1qXecaWYand http://www.carbontracker.org/report/stranded-assets-danger-zone/.
The ‘bubble’ is visualised here:
https://thinkprogress.org/infographic-the-22-trillion-carbon-bubble-d15a0837295f#.jpqb9dw0c

[xii]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/02/uk-coal-powered-electricity-projected-to-fall-by-record-amount

[xiii]http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/china-coal-power-stations-plants-electricity-supply-green-energy-greenpeace-a7134596.html

[xiv]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/13/worlds-largest-coal-producer-files-for-bankruptcy-protection;

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-21/the-coal-miner-on-everybody-s-list-as-next-bankruptcy-victim; http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/13104332.Scottish_Coal_liquidation_leads_to_dispute_over_clean_ups/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/18/vattenfall-exits-german-coal-unit-as-it-seeks-sustainable-energy

https://www.ft.com/content/072b6e80-8469-11e5-8e80-1574112844fd

[xv]https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/our-work/stateofnature2016/

[xvi]http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/policy/achieving-sustainable-development/delivering-sustainable-development/11-conserving-and-enhancing-the-natural-environment/and https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-biodiversity-and-ecosystems/2010-to-2015-government-policy-biodiversity-and-ecosystems

[xvii]https://www.east-ayrshire.gov.uk/Resources/PDF/C/Coal-Independent-Review-of-the-Regulation-of-Opencast-Coal-Operations-in-East-Ayrshire—Redacted-report-by-the-Independent-Review-Team.pdf

[xviii]https://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/briefing_coal_tcm9-365075.PDF

[xix]http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150129/debtext/150129-0004.htm
It adds up to over £469m and that total is probably an underestimate. The cost of restoring the Potland Burn site, for example, was put at £ 3.86m, the East Pit site £112.5m, and the Parc Slip site £52.5m.

[xx]http://gov.wales/topics/planning/planningresearch/publishedresearch/failure-to-restore-opencast-coal-sites-in-south-wales/?lang=en. Here are some examples:  http://stopopencast.org.uk/index.html%3Fp=382.html;http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-30504447Part of the problem is the gap likely to emerge between monies set aside by coal companies for promised work and actual full costs for proper restoration eg http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13108170.Coal_firm_gives_just___1m_for_clean_up_of_disused_mines/and http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13135416.Councils_left_with___200m_shortfall_in_funds_to_clean_up_opencast_mines/

Some more cases are documented here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/28/big-coal-keep-it-in-the-ground-energy-opencast-mines

[xxi]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228842/8082.pdf

[xxii]The NPPF calls for “a plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale” (NPPF, 117, bullet point 1

[xxiii]This report explores the resolution of possible conflicts between biodiversity and renewable energy projects of the kind the Green Party would advocate on land and offshore in Northumberland: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/energy_vision_summary_report_tcm9-419580.pdf

/publication/306531229_Limiting_global_warming_to_2_C_What_do_the_latest_mitigation_studies_tell_us_about_costs_technologies_and_other_impacts;
http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v5/n6/full/nclimate2572.html;
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/why-are-we-waiting;

The WMO has produced a new study of global temperatures:
http://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/carbon-dioxide-levels-atmosphere-spike

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/may/11/coal-made-its-best-case-against-climate-change-and-lost

[1]http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.phpand http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/27/contents

[1]http://capacity4dev.ec.europa.eu/unep/document/emissions-gap-report-2016-unep-synthesis-report; http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/news/20161017/

[1]https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/uk-action-following-paris/

[1]Fixes’ such as carbon capture and storage are still not proven technologies. Assuming they work and can avoid attendant risks (carbon leakage, etc), their deployment could not come soon enough to make any material difference and in any case they fail to solve other problems inherent in the ‘coal cycle’. See: http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/02/carbon-capture-and-storage-time-to-bury-the-myth/and https://www.technologyreview.com/s/516166/what-carbon-capture-cant-do/. Indeed some ‘clean coal’ projects have been rather a disaster eg https://www.cato.org/blog/admitting-futuregens-failureThe evidence suggests that ‘clean coal; is an oxymoron (http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a4947/4339171/and http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2015/jun/10-reasons-clean-coal-is-a-marketing-myth)

[1]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/06/03/government-denies-watering-down-coal-power-phase-out/

[1]http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/guidance/renewable-and-low-carbon-energy/developing-a-strategy-for-renewable-and-low-carbon-energy/

[1]Currently, peak demand for electricity in Britain is some 60GW for a very short time on the coldest day. Baseload demand is around 30GW. The total generating capacity available is some 85GW. Energy efficiency has reduced electricity demand by 25TWh since 2010. A McKinsey report for the Government estimates that by 2030 demand could be reduced by a further 23% while reducing consumer bills. For a DECC response to the possibilities, see: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/246125/government_response_edr_consultation.pdf.

Solar electricity from solar power is now cheaper than Hinkley having fallen by half in the last five years. Solar panels now provide about 1GW, half of which was delivered in 18 months. In cloudy Britain, solar exceeded coal over the last 6 months. Globally, renewables overtook coalas the world’s largest source of power capacity (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/renewables-have-overtaken-coal-the-iea-says-its-a-turning-point/; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/25/renewables-made-up-half-of-net-electricity-capacity-added-last-year;http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/iea-ups-renewable-forecast-13–hails-impressive-progress-of-pv-manufacturers_100026637/#axzz4P98hgmHb).

The data indicates that policies based on inflexible system (eg coal mining and centralised generating plant) are likely to be unproductive investments, regardless of other considerations. Investment in an integrated mix of renewables, and in efficiency and conservation programmes is truly ‘sustainable development’ (on efficiency, see: http://www.iea.org/eemr16/and http://www.climateworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/ExecSummary_How-Energy-Efficiency-Cuts-Costs-For-A-2-Degree-Future.pdf.
For an overview of the renewables revolution from the International Energy Agencysee: https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2016/october/medium-term-renewable-energy-market-report-2016.html
See also: http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_KeyFindings1.pdf. This report from President Obama’s advisors demolishes one common myth about renewables and obstacles to their deployment: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/page/files/20160616_cea_renewables_electricgrid.pdf

[1]http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v517/n7533/full/nature14016.html

[1]Several references can be found here: http://www.carbontracker.org/?s=carbon+bubble
See also:
http://blog.ucsusa.org/tag/king-coals-stages-of-grief#.WBy1qXecaWYand http://www.carbontracker.org/report/stranded-assets-danger-zone/.
The ‘bubble’ is visualised here:
https://thinkprogress.org/infographic-the-22-trillion-carbon-bubble-d15a0837295f#.jpqb9dw0c

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/02/uk-coal-powered-electricity-projected-to-fall-by-record-amount

[1]http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/china-coal-power-stations-plants-electricity-supply-green-energy-greenpeace-a7134596.html

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/13/worlds-largest-coal-producer-files-for-bankruptcy-protection;

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-21/the-coal-miner-on-everybody-s-list-as-next-bankruptcy-victim; http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/13104332.Scottish_Coal_liquidation_leads_to_dispute_over_clean_ups/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/18/vattenfall-exits-german-coal-unit-as-it-seeks-sustainable-energy

https://www.ft.com/content/072b6e80-8469-11e5-8e80-1574112844fd

[1]https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/our-work/stateofnature2016/

[1]http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/policy/achieving-sustainable-development/delivering-sustainable-development/11-conserving-and-enhancing-the-natural-environment/and https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-biodiversity-and-ecosystems/2010-to-2015-government-policy-biodiversity-and-ecosystems

[1]https://www.east-ayrshire.gov.uk/Resources/PDF/C/Coal-Independent-Review-of-the-Regulation-of-Opencast-Coal-Operations-in-East-Ayrshire—Redacted-report-by-the-Independent-Review-Team.pdf

[1]https://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/briefing_coal_tcm9-365075.PDF

[1]http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150129/debtext/150129-0004.htm
It adds up to over £469m and that total is probably an underestimate. The cost of restoring the Potland Burn site, for example, was put at £ 3.86m, the East Pit site £112.5m, and the Parc Slip site £52.5m.

[1]http://gov.wales/topics/planning/planningresearch/publishedresearch/failure-to-restore-opencast-coal-sites-in-south-wales/?lang=en. Here are some examples:  http://stopopencast.org.uk/index.html%3Fp=382.html;http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-30504447Part of the problem is the gap likely to emerge between monies set aside by coal companies for promised work and actual full costs for proper restoration eg http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13108170.Coal_firm_gives_just___1m_for_clean_up_of_disused_mines/and http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13135416.Councils_left_with___200m_shortfall_in_funds_to_clean_up_opencast_mines/

Some more cases are documented here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/28/big-coal-keep-it-in-the-ground-energy-opencast-mines

[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228842/8082.pdf

[1]The NPPF calls for “a plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale” (NPPF, 117, bullet point 1

[1]This report explores the resolution of possible conflicts between biodiversity and renewable energy projects of the kind the Green Party would advocate on land and offshore in Northumberland: http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/energy_vision_summary_report_tcm9-419580.pdf

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‘Peak oil’ all too true

This is a useful reminder of the significance and realities of ‘peak oil’, a phenomenon many short-sighted people foolishly deny, including some who ought to know better:

The Peak Oil Dilemma David Blittersdorf May 12, 2016 We live in a finite world. Fossil fuels–oil, coal, and natural gas–are our number one energy source. Oil, being the biggest, drives almost everything we do. And we’re rapidly reaching the limits of how…
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Subsidising the fossil fools

Continued extraction, transportation and burning of fossil fuels is a dead-end in so many ways. Yet public monies are poured into the subsidising of this utterly unsustainable energy sector while far better alternatives cry out for support.

I just read NEF’s post, “The looking-glass world of fossil fuel subsidies.” You should too.
NEWECONOMICS.ORG

Energy – nuclear con of small modular reactors

David Toke has published a good rebuttal of the argument being pushed that small modular nuclear reactors are the way forward. The nuclear lobby is trying to hijack the ‘small is beautiful’ perspective for unsustainable ends.
—–

Take a large number of scientists who have grown up with the firm belief that nuclear power is the future of energy, face them with the fact that nuclear power is proving to be undeliverable in anything like the scale, time and cost that has been originally envisaged in UK Government plans, and what do you get? Wishful thinking about ‘small modular reactors’ or ‘smrs’!

You can see this in the article in the Times by Lady Judge at :
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/…/when-it-comes-to-nuclears-futur…

She says that:
‘The plan to focus on building large reactors was originally conceived before Fukushima, while I was chairwoman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and when fossil fuel prices were expected to keep going up. Large nuclear plants, however, are expensive and take a long time to build. In the interim, one answer is small modular nuclear reactors. Being small is useful because they can be built in one place and transported to another, such as the site of one of the coal plants that we are in the process of shutting down, or even an industrial park. Modular, in this context, means that more plants can be added easily on an existing site. The flexibility and lower cost of small reactors is a way of getting greater private sector involvement, without the more complex financing arrangements needed for a larger plant’

The impression you get from this is that the idea of large nuclear reactors is some sort of fairly recent deviation, and that somehow there was some golden era when (presumably) smrs were abandoned through some mistake. The advantages of smrs are stated as if there is evidence for this.
There is no evidence at all for this, and indeed the notion that smrs would ever be cheaper than large reactors flies in the face of engineering logic.

Nuclear reactors in the UK (and in the rest of the world) have been steadily scaled up from around 200 MWe in size to begin with, up to around 500 MWe in the 1960s, and then up to over 1000 MWe in the 1980s and 1990s. Contrary to the impression given in Lady Judge’s article, this was not a recent decision or trend. And there are sound engineering reasons for this, including one very simple one: for complex machines with moving parts and the need to ensure (safe) functioning of each unit each unit needs much the same input for design as a much larger unit. This fact is effectively taken for granted with other type of power sets, even those whose safety characteristics are not so much the centre of anxiety.

By way of comparison, if you want to build a gas fired power station to generate, say, 500MWe of power, people don’t lash together dozens of small gas turbines – that would be financial madness. You have smaller gas turbines when the circumstances demand it, you do not do it out of choice because they generate much cheaper power at much bigger scales. To minimise costs developers will prefer to build one large unit unit, and they can take several years to build, although of course there is much more certainty about the costs and timescale of building gas fired power stations compared to nuclear power plant. Given that nuclear reactor sets will need much more safety care compared to gas fired power plant, there is no way in this universe that the principles applied to gas turbines are suddenly going to be reversed in the case of nuclear reactors – indeed the reverse is likely to be the case – ie there is even more pressure to upscale nuclear reactors compared to gas-fired power plant..

Sometimes we hear talk about the nuclear powered submarines built by Rolls Royce. But these generate no more than a few MWe of power and whilst we don’t know how much they cost exactly, the submarines cost billions of pounds each. Rolls Royce may well be keen to get down to earning money through doing research in smrs, but will they be able to contribute to a project that is cheaper than Hinkley C? I think not.

There is of course no comparison to be made with solar pv cells. They are very small, passive items, with no unit specific design costs. They can be assembled along massive production lines where you can get very big supply chain economies of scale – on the basis of just 250-300 watts each. You can, and solar pv companies do, produce hundreds of thousands of units a year. This is simply on a different dimension to nuclear reactors.

The moral of this story maybe that it doesn’t matter how clever people are, they can still have unlikely beliefs. The fact that so many scientists appear to subscribe to the nonsense about smrs says something about how being clever doesn’t protect you from believing in rubbish, not that smrs are somehow a cost-effective prospect. Never in the history of humankind, (so far as I am aware) have so many clever people subscribed to such an inherently ludicrous concept before!