The first new nuclear plant in 20 years will be built at Hinkley Point in Somerset, England. The much-anticipated announcement marks the end of months of negotiations between ministers and French energy company EDF Group.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey told the BBC last week the deal represented "extremely good value for money for consumers." The government has long maintained that nuclear power is core to the government's plans to reduce power sector emissions. Two Chinese companies will also have a minority stake in the plant, according to a government announcement.
Now the details are confirmed, here's a look at the main questions.
How Much Will It Cost?
The government has been wrangling with EDF over how much it will pay the company for the new nuclear reactor's electricity. After a lot of back and forth, they have agreed a guaranteed price of £92.50 per megawatt hour. But if EDF builds a second new plant at Sizewell in Suffolk, this price will be lower —£89.50—because the company can share costs between the sites, the government says. EDF hasn't yet made a final investment decision on the second plant.
The price is significant because it decides how much consumers will pay for nuclear power.
The government is implementing a new system to support low carbon generation known as contracts for difference. Under the contracts, the government agrees a guaranteed price for electricity with power companies, known as the strike price. If the wholesale price of electricity falls below the strike price, the government tops it up, with the cost passed on to consumers.
The government hopes that by guaranteeing a price, it will encourage companies to build low carbon power plants. The government originally offered EDF a strike price of around £80, but EDF was reportedly holding out for closer to £100. So the price agreed today falls in between. Both sides had reportedly accepted the price had to be below the £155 offered to offshore wind generators.
The two sides have also been negotiating over the contract's length. The government has offered EDF a 35-year contract. This is more than double the length of the contracts set to be offered to renewable energy sources.
EDF wanted a long contract because nuclear plants are typically a high-risk investment, according to reports. Recent European projects have been beset by cost overruns and delays, but by guaranteeing the price for 35 years, the government has significantly reduced the risk of EDF and their partners not seeing a return on their investment.
What's more, the government says the deal includes provision for the strike price to be adjusted up or down, "in relation to operational and certain other costs" and based on "changes to the amount of tax payable by the project company."
Ed Miliband's announcement that Labour would freeze energy bills for two years if it was elected, followed by news of energy company price hikes, has brought energy policy to the centre of the media debate in recent weeks. As the agreed strike price is higher than the current wholesale price of electricity, there is likely to be a lot of debate around whether it delivers value for money.
How Will This Affect Energy Bills?
Supporting new low carbon nuclear plants will add to the 'green charges' section of a consumer's bill. But not until the power plants start producing power in 2023, and only if the wholesale cost of electricity remains below the strike price.
As the new nuclear deal ties the subsidy level to the wholesale price of electricity, it's tricky to predict how much the strike price will affect household bills.
The government says building a new fleet of nuclear power stations could reduce household energy bills by more than £75 a year in 2030, compared to a future where nuclear is not part of energy mix. This is presumably based on the assumption that the costs of fossil fuels will rise in the future—making nuclear cheaper in comparison.
At the moment, the strike price is twice the current wholesale price of energy. If the costs of fossil fuels such as coal and gas rises in the future, the wholesale price of electricity could increase, however. That could mean consumers pay less to subsidise nuclear but have higher bills overall.
Alternatively, the wholesale price of electricity could fall as more renewable power comes online, as they have no fuel costs. That would mean nuclear and renewable operators get more 'top-up' payments and consumers see an increase in 'green charges' on their bills.
There are also longer-term costs that those calculations probably don't include. For example, the government has offered to underwrite the construction costs of the new power plants to the tune of £10 billion.
There's also the issue of decommissioning the plants. Currently, about half of the Department of Energy and Climate Change's budget is set aside to shut down old nuclear plants through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, paid for out of the government's coffers. But government guidelines for new nuclear builds will require EDF to set aside enough cash to cover decommissioning costs, taken from the strike price profits.
The cost of nuclear energy is only part of the story, however. Davey claims nuclear's low carbon quality is ultimately what swayed him to accept a new fleet was necessary in the first place.
What Will It Do to Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
The UK Climate Change Act requires the government to reduce the UK's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The new nuclear deal should help the government to significantly reduce power sector emissions by squeezing higher emitting coal plants—and to a lesser extent, gas plants—out of the energy mix.
UK Energy Research Centre and Imperial College Research Associate, Phil Heptonstall, says in the long run, "carbon dioxide emissions savings from new nuclear will be very substantial, assuming it displaces coal and/or gas plants." Government advisor, the Committee on Climate Change, estimates nuclear plant emissions could be as little as six grams per kilowatt hour, compared to 370 grams per kilowatt hour from an efficient gas plant.
The government is also required to provide for 15 per cent of the country's energy demand from renewable sources by 2020 under European Union (EU) laws—and the EU may put another target for 2030. But the UK government is lobbying the European Commission to put a single emissions target in place instead. That could potentially be bad news for the renewables industry, as it could encourage the government to pursue nuclear instead of building more solar or wind farms.
Critics argue that the deal doesn't make economic sense. Professor Paul Dorfman from University College London's Energy Institute says the new nuclear deal ties consumers into subsidizing one energy source for a whole generation—potentially at a very high level, depending on the wholesale price of electricity. In contrast, renewable energy sources' shorter contracts mean the subsidy can be cut if the costs of building turbines or solar panels fall. He predicts that the cost of nuclear "will flatline or hike, while renewables will do nothing but go down"—so consumers could be getting a bad deal if the government pursues nuclear at the expense of renewables.
And the Hinkley deal could be just the start. The industry plans to build a further 13 gigawatts of new nuclear in the UK. If today's deal is well received by the public and industry, it could encourage the government to offer a similar contracts to other developers.
When Will the Nuclear Plant Be Ready?
From today's media excitement you could be forgiven for thinking Mr Burns and Co. will be moving in any day now. Signing the contract is just the start of a long process, however.
The Nuclear Energy Agency says it can take up to eight years to build a new plant, assuming all goes to plan. EDF has suggested the Hinkley plant could be producing power by 2018—but the government suggests today that the plant will be generating electricity from 2023. EDF's latest effort—a 1.6 gigawatt power plant located in western France—is set to taketwice as long and cost twice as much as originally planned.
EDF blamed the delays on the rising costs of materials, a couple of accidents that held up engineerin, and new regulations that came into force after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. EDF also said construction was difficult as the plant was the first nuclear power station to be built in France in 15 years—a concerning message given the UK's newest nuclear plant was constructed two decades ago. The delays were reported as a bad omen for the Hinkley plant, despite EDF's assurances.
And the UK's new deal could still be held up by the European Commission, which has to approve any arrangement that could be seen as giving a particular industry a competitive advantage. The commission last week indicated that the state aid rules—dictating which industries can receive government support —wouldn't be extended to nuclear power. That would force the government to appeal to the Commission on a case by case basis, potentially further delaying the start of construction.
This article originally appeared on Carbon Brief.
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By Alexander Richard Braczkowski, Christopher O'Bryan, Duan Biggs, and Raymond Jansen
A Cute But Threatened Species<p><a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/what-is-a-pangolin" target="_blank">Pangolins</a> are the only mammals wholly-covered in scales, which they use to protect themselves from predators. They can also curl up into a tight ball.</p><p>They eat mainly ants, termites and larvae which they pick up with their sticky tongue. They can grow up to 1m in length from nose to tail and are sometimes referred to as scaly anteaters.</p><p>But <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128155073000332" title="Chapter 33 - Conservation strategies and priority actions for pangolins" target="_blank">all eight</a> pangolin species are classified as "<a href="https://www.pangolins.org/tag/endangered-species/" target="_blank">threatened</a>" under International Union for Conservation of Nature <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=pangolin&searchType=species" target="_blank">criteria</a>.</p><p>There is an unprecedented demand for their scales, primarily from countries in Asia and <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12389" title="Assessing Africa‐Wide Pangolin Exploitation by Scaling Local Data" target="_blank">Africa</a> where they are used in food, cultural remedies and <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/141072b0" title="Chinese Medicine and the Pangolin" target="_blank">medicine</a>.</p><p>Between 2017 and 2019, seizures of pangolin scales <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/02/pangolin-scale-trade-shipments-growing/" target="_blank">tripled in volume</a>. In 2019 alone, 97 tons of pangolin scales, equivalent to about 150,000 animals, were <a href="https://oxpeckers.org/2020/03/nigeria-steps-up-for-pangolins/" target="_blank">reportedly</a> intercepted leaving Africa.</p>
Reintroduction of an Extinct Species<p>Each year in South Africa the African Pangolin Working Group (<a href="https://africanpangolin.org/" target="_blank">APWG</a>) retrieves between 20 and 40 pangolins through intelligence operations with security forces.</p><p>These pangolins are often-traumatised and injured and are admitted to the <a href="http://www.johannesburgwildlifevet.com/our-hospital" target="_blank">Johannesburg Wildlife Veterinary Hospital</a> for extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation before they can be considered for release.</p><p>In 2019, seven rescued Temminck's pangolins were reintroduced into South Africa's <a href="https://www.andbeyond.com/destinations/africa/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/phinda-private-game-reserve/" target="_blank">Phinda Private Game Reserve</a> in the KwaZulu Natal Province.</p><p>Nine months on, five have survived. This reintroduction is a world first for a region that last saw a viable population of this species in the 1980s.</p><p>During the release, every individual pangolin followed a strict regime. They needed to become familiar with their new surroundings and be able to forage efficiently.</p>
A ‘Soft Release’ in to the Wild<p>The process on Phinda game reserve involved a more gentle ease into re-wilding a population in a region that had not seen pangolins for many decades.</p><p>The soft release had two phases:</p><ol><li>a pre-release observational period</li><li>an intensive monitoring period post release employing GPS satellite as well as VHF tracking tags.</li></ol>
Why Pangolin Reintroduction is Important<p>We know so little about this group of mammals that are vastly understudied and hold many secrets yet to be discovered by science but are on the verge of collapse.</p><p>The South African and Phinda story is one of hope for the Temminck's pangolin where they once again roam the savanna hills and plains of Zululand.</p><p>The process of relocating these trade animals back into the wild has taken many turns, failures and tribulations but, the recipe of the "soft release" is working.</p>
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By Jake Johnson
In a move that environmentalists warned could further imperil hundreds of endangered species and a protected habitat for the sake of profit, President Donald Trump on Friday signed a proclamation rolling back an Obama-era order and opening nearly 5,000 square miles off the coast of New England to commercial fishing.
Why You Should Wash Fresh Produce<p>Global pandemic or not, properly washing fresh fruits and vegetables is a good habit to practice to minimize the ingestion of potentially harmful residues and germs.</p><p>Fresh produce is handled by numerous people before you purchase it from the grocery store or the farmers market. It's best to assume that not every hand that has touched fresh produce has been clean.</p><p>With all of the people constantly bustling through these environments, it's also safe to assume that much of the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fresh-vs-frozen-fruit-and-vegetables" target="_blank">fresh produce</a> you purchase has been coughed on, sneezed on, and breathed on as well.</p><p>Adequately washing fresh fruits and vegetables before you eat them can significantly reduce residues that may be left on them during their journey to your kitchen.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Washing fresh fruits and vegetables is a proven way to remove germs and unwanted residues from their surfaces before eating them.</p>
Best Produce Cleaning Methods<p>While rinsing fresh produce with water has long been the traditional method of preparing fruits and veggies before consumption, the current pandemic has many people wondering whether that's enough to really clean them.</p><p>Some people have advocated the use of soap, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/white-vinegar" target="_blank">vinegar</a>, lemon juice, or even commercial cleaners like bleach as an added measure.</p><p>However, health and food safety experts, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), strongly urge consumers not to take this advice and stick with plain water.</p><p>Using such substances may pose further health dangers, and they're unnecessary to remove the most harmful residues from produce. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/chlorine-poisoning" target="_blank">Ingesting commercial cleaning chemicals</a> like bleach can be lethal and should never be used to clean food.</p><p>Furthermore, substances like lemon juice, vinegar, and produce washes have not been shown to be any more effective at cleaning produce than plain water — and may even leave additional deposits on food.</p><p>While some research has suggested that using neutral electrolyzed water or a baking soda bath can be even more effective at removing certain substances, the consensus continues to be that cool tap water is sufficient in most cases.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>The best way to wash fresh produce before eating it is with cool water. Using other substances is largely unnecessary. Plus they're often not as effective as water and gentle friction. Commercial cleaners should never be used on food.</p>
How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables With Water<p>Washing fresh fruits and vegetables in cool water before eating them is a good practice when it comes to health hygiene and food safety.</p><p>Note that fresh produce should not be washed until right before you're ready to eat it. Washing fruits and vegetables before storing them may create an environment in which bacterial growth is more likely.</p><p>Before you begin washing fresh produce, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-should-you-wash-your-hands" target="_blank">wash your hands well</a> with soap and water. Be sure that any utensils, sinks, and surfaces you're using to prepare your produce are also thoroughly cleaned first.</p><p>Begin by cutting away any bruised or visibly rotten areas of fresh produce. If you're handling a fruit or vegetable that'll be peeled, such as an orange, wash it before peeling it to prevent any surface bacteria from entering the flesh.</p><p>The general methods to wash produce are as follows:</p><ul><li><strong>Firm produce.</strong> Fruits with firmer skins like apples, lemons, and pears, as well as <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/root-vegetables" target="_blank">root vegetables</a> like potatoes, carrots, and turnips, can benefit from being brushed with a clean, soft bristle to better remove residues from their pores.</li><li><strong>Leafy greens.</strong> Spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, leeks, and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and bok choy should have their outermost layer removed, then be submerged in a bowl of cool water, swished, drained, and rinsed with fresh water.</li><li><strong>Delicate produce.</strong> Berries, mushrooms, and other types of produce that are more likely to fall apart can be cleaned with a steady stream of water and gentle friction using your fingers to remove grit.</li></ul><p>Once you have thoroughly rinsed your produce, dry it using a clean paper or cloth towel. More fragile produce can be laid out on the towel and gently patted or rolled around to dry them without damaging them.</p><p>Before consuming your fruits and veggies, follow the simple steps above to minimize the amount of germs and substances that may be on them.</p><p><strong>Summary</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Most fresh fruits and veggies can gently be scrubbed under cold running water (using a clean soft brush for those with firmer skins) and then dried. It can help to soak, drain, and rinse produce that has more dirt-trapping layers.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Practicing good food hygiene is an important health habit. Washing fresh produce helps minimize surface germs and residues that could make you sick.</p><p>Recent fears during the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/coronavirus" target="_blank">COVID-19 pandemic</a> have caused many people to wonder whether more aggressive washing methods, such as using soap or commercial cleaners on fresh produce, are better.</p><p>Health professionals agree that this isn't recommended or necessary — and could even be dangerous. Most fruits and vegetables can be sufficiently cleaned with cool water and light friction right before eating them.</p><p>Produce that has more layers and surface area can be more thoroughly washed by swishing it in a bowl of cool water to remove dirt particles.</p><p>Fresh fruits and vegetables offer a number of healthy nutrients and should continue to be eaten, as long as safe cleaning methods are practiced.</p>
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By Danielle Nierenberg
Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, people around the United States are protesting racism, police brutality, inequality, and violence in their own communities. No matter your political affiliation, the violence by multiple police departments in this country is unacceptable.
Mangroves play a vital role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Mangrove forests are tremendous assets in the fight to stem the climate crisis. They store more carbon than a rainforest of the same size.
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Monday is World Oceans Day, but how can you celebrate our blue planet while social distancing?
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>