By Joe Sandler Clarke
A reported public financing deal between the UK and Japanese governments for a new nuclear plant in Anglesey, Wales, could set the UK government up to provide state-support for a raft of nuclear projects hit by financial difficulties.
The FT reported on Tuesday that letters had been exchanged between Tokyo and London expressing support for the Wylfa project—which will be built by the Hitachi-owned consortium Horizon.
The FT story followed up a series of reports in Japan suggesting that the Japanese and UK governments had agreed on $20 billion in loans to acquire a stake in Horizon with the help of financial institutions—including an equity stake for the UK government.
Any move to put public money into new nuclear would represent a significant policy shift from the Conservative government, exposing taxpayers to significant risk while potentially lowering the cost of building a new power station.
The news comes as the UK government faces accusations of refusing to intervene over the collapse of Carillion and the East Coast Franchise.
Both the Japanese government and the Treasury refused to confirm or deny speculation when approached by Unearthed.
A spokesperson for the Japanese government told us: "We are aware that this has been reported, but our understanding is that at present there has been no specific decision made."
When asked about the numerous media reports on public financing, a Treasury spokesperson said that "the government is engaged in constructive discussions with a number of new nuclear developers. These discussions are commercially sensitive and it would be inappropriate to share at this time."
Of the UK's much-delayed nuclear program, Horizon is amongst the closest to an investment decision, but there is also speculation around other projects hit by financial difficulties.
There are also reports in Korean media that the Treasury is involved in project finance for the troubled Moorside nuclear plant—including another possible equity stake.
It was announced in December that state-owned South Korean firm Kepco is to take over construction of the power station in Cumbria.
Kepco was named as the preferred bidder for the NuGeneration consortium running the project, after its owner Toshiba was forced to sell due to financial problems, including the bankruptcy of its U.S. nuclear subsidiary.
According to an article published in Korea last year, the UK Infrastructure and Project Authority, a branch of the Treasury, worked on a financing structure with the Korean government, with Kepco at its centre.
The website Business Korea stated in October that the Korean government was working with the Infrastructure and Project Authority on a financing plan alongside U.S. and Japanese institutions to enable the company to buy a stake in Moorside.
Before Christmas, the FT reported that the head of Horizon, the Hitachi-owned consortium which hopes to build the plant at Wylfa, Duncan Hawthorne, felt the project needed government backing to get off the ground.
Hawthorne added that Treasury officials were "fully engaged" with Horizon and committed to ensuring that the power station was built at a lower cost than Hinkley Point C.
Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow in energy at Chatham House, told Unearthed that the Conservatives were shifting their policy because new nuclear plants are unlikely to come online without significant state backing.
"What we're seeing, and this has been the case for the last 5-10 years, is that the Conservatives have gradually been salami slicing away at their pledge to allow the construction of new nuclear, provided that they 'receive no public subsidy'," he said.
"There's been a shift on this because nuclear can't happen without significant government financial support."
Peter McIntosh, acting national officer for energy at the Unite union, which has long pushed for public investment in new nuclear, told Unearthed that the reports of the Wylfa deal were welcome, but urged the state to go further. "Privatization of the energy sector has failed and we would call upon the government to bring the sector back into public ownership," he said.
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The government has reaffirmed its commitment to building a fleet of new nuclear power stations in recent months, despite concerns over the cost and delivery.
But if it decides to back a nuclear project, it may prove difficult for ministers to avoid offering the same public support to other similar schemes.
Alex Mosson, construction and engineering law specialist at Keystone Law, said it was unlikely that the government would be in legal trouble if it chose to invest in Wylfa and ignored other projects, but he said it could face political difficulties.
"In terms of the legality, the government more or less has free reign to do what it wants within the parameters of its investment requirements. But in terms of politics, it becomes very different, because these deals can be used as leverage. Legally, I couldn't give a definitive answer, as I don't know what the scheme is. But commenting on the industry itself, there will always be a circumstance where one party will try to use another party's leverage to their benefit," he said.
Ultimately, however, nuclear projects will depend on agreements to buy the power they produce—with new subsidies ruled out until 2025 in the Autumn budget.
"The only short-term option the government would have for giving public money to new nuclear would be to take an equity stake," said Froggatt.
Doing so may still not be sufficient to make the projects happen, however.
Tom Burke, chairman and founding director of the environmental group E3G, suggested that there might be something else at play.
"The struggling nuclear industries of Japan, France and Korea are all looking to the UK to rescue them," he argued.
"What they are getting from the government is warm words and long promises. The truth is that there is no room for additional nuclear in Britain's rapidly modernizing electricity supply system. Without power purchase agreements paid for by consumers none of these projects will go ahead however much they reduce their capital cost."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Unearthed.
By Sami Yassa
A pre-eminent think tank in the United Kingdom, Chatham House, issued a seminal report last week challenging a fundamental assumption underlying European renewable energy policy: that burning forest biomass to produce electricity is "carbon neutral." The report, Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate, finds that many forms of forest-derived biopower are likely increasing carbon pollution rather than reducing emissions and calls for restrictions on existing government incentives for the biomass industry in the EU.
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The context for this analysis is a cross-Atlantic dirty energy boom, fueled by misplaced subsidies intended to promote clean energy. Currently energy companies are cutting U.S. forests and producing wood pellets to export to EU markets, claiming that biomass fuel is clean and renewable. These exports are driven by generous EU renewable energy subsidies that erroneously reward all forest biomass as "carbon-neutral"—equivalent to non-polluting sources like solar and wind energy. In other words, when counting carbon pollution at a biomass power plant, EU regulators treat the discharge from the smokestack as zero carbon, even though biomass combustion releases carbon emissions at levels comparable to fossil fuels.
The Chatham House report is the capstone to a growing body of peer-reviewed scientific analyses—including the UK government's own modeling—that show forest biomass is not carbon neutral. It underscores that in many cases forest biomass produces more emissions than fossil fuels and these emissions persist in the atmosphere for decades.
The report provides exhaustive research and deliberate reasoning to debunk the industry-promoted myths underlying the EU's misplaced carbon-neutrality assumptions. Here are a few of their top-line conclusions and recommendations:
Biomass Plants Pollute at the Smokestack at Levels Comparable to Fossil Fuels.
Since wood has a lower energy content compared with fossil fuels while also having a higher moisture content, its combustion for energy usually emits more carbon per unit of energy produced than fossil fuels. The Chatham House study, citing numbers from the IPCC confirms this fact:
... in most circumstances, comparing technologies of similar ages, the use of woody biomass for energy will release higher levels of emissions than coal and considerably higher levels than gas.
Burning Biomass Produces a "Carbon Debt" Which is Not Automatically Offset by Forest Regrowth.
The report goes on to underscore a fundamental flaw underlying the arguments of biomass proponents: namely, since forests can regenerate over time and sequester carbon in the process, this regrowth balances or offsets the stack emissions produced by burning wood for energy. The report rejects this overly simplistic error and instead stresses that biomass burning creates a "carbon debt"—excess carbon in the atmosphere—and that the intensity and duration of this debt depends on the type of forest biomass burned (for example, whole trees versus logging residues versus mill waste). In sum it confirms the findings of many prior scientific inquiries that not all biomass is created equal and burning whole trees in particular is always detrimental to climate.
The harvesting of whole trees for energy will in almost all circumstances increase net carbon emissions very substantially compared to using fossil fuels. This is because of the loss of future carbon sequestration from the growing trees—particularly from mature trees in old-growth forests, whose rate of carbon absorption can be very high—and of the loss of soil carbon consequent upon the disturbance.
The use of sawmill residues for energy has lower impacts because it involves no additional harvesting; it is waste from other operations of the wood industry. The impact will be most positive for the climate if they are burnt on-site for energy without any associated transport or processing emissions.
While wood pellet manufacturers in the U.S. southeast claim that most of their wood pellets are produced with residues, the report shows that about three quarters of the pellets from the southern U.S. came from whole trees and residues accounted for only a quarter.
Time Scale Matters
These two examples from the study show that when biomass is burned it releases carbon emissions immediately and this carbon debt lasts anywhere from a few years to many decades (often called the "payback period")—depending upon the type of feedstock used. But carbon emissions from burning forest biomass will have real consequences for climate in the near term—and not just some distant future 100 years from now. These near-term "tipping points" include melting glaciers, sea level rise, disruptions to agricultural systems and effects on human health. So only those feedstocks that reduce emissions in the short term will provide climate benefits. The Chatham House study confirms this finding:
Some have argued that the length of the carbon payback period does not matter as long as all emissions are eventually absorbed. This ignores the potential impact in the short term on climate tipping points (a concept for which there is some evidence) and on the world's ability to meet the target set in the 2015 Paris agreement to limit temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, which requires greenhouse gas emissions to peak in the near term. This suggests that only biomass energy with the shortest carbon payback periods should be eligible for financial and regulatory support.
"Sustainable Forestry" Does Not Mean Carbon Neutrality
Many biomass proponents like to argue that biomass fuel sourced from a region where the net forest growth is positive or where sustainable forestry is practiced—is carbon neutral. Such logic is nonsense. Rates of forest growth simply cannot detect, quantify or reflect the carbon emissions from an individual biomass-burning facility and it does not establish a proper baseline for accounting or a cause-and-effect between the power plant and the region's forests. The Chatham House study flatly debunks this industry myth:
It is often argued that biomass emissions should be considered to be zero at the point of combustion because carbon has been absorbed during the growth of the trees, either because the timber is harvested from a sustainably managed forest, or because forest area as a whole is increasing (at least in Europe and North America).
These arguments are not credible. They ignore what happens to the wood after it is harvested (emissions will be different if the wood is burnt or made into products) and the carbon sequestration forgone from harvesting the trees that if left unharvested would have continued to grow and absorb carbon. The evidence suggests that this is true even for mature trees, which absorb carbon at a faster rate than young trees.
Among the report's many recommendations, three stand out as rejecting the fundamental carbon neutrality assumption underlying the EU's Renewable Energy Directive and restricting financial support only to biomass feedstocks that actually reduce carbon emissions in the short term—mill residues and post-consumer waste.
- It is not valid to claim that because trees absorb carbon as they grow, the emissions from burning them can be ignored.
- The provision of financial or regulatory support to biomass energy on the grounds of its contribution to mitigating climate change should be limited only to those feedstocks that reduce carbon emissions over the short term.
- In practice, this means that support should be restricted to sawmill residues, together with post-consumer waste. Burning slower-decaying forest residues or whole trees means that carbon emissions stay higher for decades than if fossil fuels had been used.
Burning forest biomass is not a climate solution. It often worsens climate change by emitting more carbon than burning coal. These findings have now been corroborated by an established UK institution with a history of independent and rigorous research. It should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers in both the UK and EU that their renewables incentives and subsidies aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants are—in the case of forest biomass power—likely having the opposite effect and making our climate problems worse.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.