UK nuclear power stations ‘could be forced to close’ after Brexit

Leaving Euratom treaty will shut down nuclear industry if international safety agreements are not made in time, MPs told

Nuclear power stations would be forced to shut down if a new measures are not in place when Britain quits a European atomic power treaty in 2019, an expert has warned.

Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the Euratom treaty as the government has promised could see trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt.

The UK government has said it will exit Euratom when article 50 is triggered. The treaty promotes cooperation and research into nuclear power, and uniform safety standards.

Unlike other arrangements, if we dont get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we cant arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.

Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes. Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: Its a political issue, not a legal issue.

The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee.

Euratom explainer

There is a plethora of international agreements that would have to be struck that almost mirror those in place with Euratom, before we moved not just material but intellectual property, services, anything in the nuclear sector. We would be crippled without other things in place, said Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which was established by the government in 2013.

She said movement of the industrys best intellectual talent was made easier by the UKs membership of Euratom.

The government said it was working on alternative arrangements to Euratom. Describing the notification of withdrawal as a regrettable necessity when article 50 is triggered, energy minister Jesse Norman said that the UK saw clear routes outside of Euratom to address issues such as the trade of nuclear materials.

We take this extremely seriously and are devoting serious resources [to looking at new arrangements], he told the Lords science and technology committee on Tuesday.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said there was a lot to be done to put in place transitional measures replacing Euratom.

What were collectively warning about is the potential for there to be a very hard two-year period during which there are lots of other things the government has to deal with, that could leave it in a position where some of these things arent in place, he said. Greatrex said one possible option was an associate membership of Euratom.

Over the weekend, the GMB union called on ministers to reconsider their foolhardy rush to leave the treaty, claiming it could endanger the UKs entire nuclear future.

But the Office for Nuclear Regulation argued there could even be be some positives to leaving Euratom, such as a reduction in bureaucracy. If we relinquish Euratom there would be reduced burden from not having to comply with directives, said David Senior, an ONR executive.

Norman also promised a decision was due soon on the next stage of a delayed multimillion-pound government competition for mini nuclear reactors, known as small modular reactors. I love the projects and ideas but I want to be shown the value, he told the peers.

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Tesla moves beyond electric cars with new California battery farm

The project is part of Elon Musks plan to help transform the power grid

From the road, the close to 400 white industrial boxes packed into 1.5 acres of barren land in Ontario, California, a little more than 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles, look like standard electrical equipment. Theyre surrounded by a metal fence, stand on concrete pads and sit under long electrical lines.

But take a closer look and youll notice the bright red coloring and gray logo of electric car company Tesla on the sides. And inside the boxes are thousands of battery cells the same ones that are used in Teslas electric cars made by the company in its massive $5bn Tesla Gigafactory outside of Reno, Nevada.

This spot, located at the Mira Loma substation of Southern California Edison, hosts the biggest battery farm Tesla has built for a power company. Southern California Edison will use the battery farm, which has been operating since December and is one of the biggest in the world, to store energy and meet spikes in demand like on hot summer afternoons when buildings start to crank up the air conditioning.

Teslas project has a capacity of 20 megawatts and is designed to discharge 80-megawatt hours of electricity in four-hour periods. It contains enough batteries to run about 1,000 Tesla cars, and the equivalent energy to supply power to 15,000 homes for four hours. The company declined to disclose the projects cost.

The project marks an important point in Teslas strategy to expand beyond the electric car business. Developing battery packs is a core expertise for the company, which is designing packs for homes, businesses and utilities. It markets them partly as a way to store solar electricity for use after sundown, a pitch that works well for states with a booming solar energy market such as California.

Battery systems built for power companies can serve more than one purpose. A utility can avoid blackouts by charging them up when its natural gas power plants, or solar and wind farms, produce more electricity than needed, and draw from them when the power plants arent able to keep up with demand.

Edison and other California utilities hired Tesla and a few other battery farm builders after an important natural gas reservoir near Los Angeles, called Aliso Canyon, closed following a huge leak and massive environmental disaster in late 2015. The leak forced thousands of people in nearby neighborhoods to evacuate. It also left utilities worried about how theyd meet the peak electricity demands of coming summers if they werent able to dip into the natural gas storage whenever they need fuel to produce power. They couldnt always get natural gas shipment from other suppliers quick enough to meet a sharp rise in electricity consumption.

Teslas CTO JB Straubel unveils the batteries. Photograph: Katie Fehrenbacher

As a result, the California Public Utilities Commission approved 100 megawatts of energy storage projects for both Southern California Edison and also San Diego Gas & Electric. The commission also asked for the projects to be built quickly, before the end of 2016.

Other energy storage projects that have been built since include a 37.5-megawatt project in San Diego County by AES Energy Storage, which used lithium-ion batteries from Samsung. AES has completed the project, which is going through the commissioning phase. AES also plans to build a 100-megawatt project for Southern California Edison in Long Beach in 2020.

Even before the Aliso Canyon disaster, the commission had already recognized the benefit of using energy storage to manage supply and demand and expected it to become an important component in the states plan to replace fossil fuel energy with renewables. The commission, which requires the states three big utilities to add more wind and solar energy to their supplies over time, also set a statement energy storage target of 1,325 megawatts by 2020.

Surrounded by rows of batteries at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the project on Monday, Southern California Edisons CEO Kevin Payne said the Tesla project is important because it validates that energy storage can be part of the energy mix now and is a great reminder of how fast technology is changing the electric power industry.

This latest crop of energy storage projects use a new generation of lithium-ion batteries. Historically, batteries were too expensive for energy storage, but their prices have dropped dramatically in recent years, thanks to their mass production by companies such as Panasonic, Tesla and Samsung.

Companies that buy lithium-ion batteries have been reporting drops in prices of 70% over the past two years. Tesla has said it plans to lower its battery prices by 30% by expanding production inside its Gigafactory.

At the event on Monday, Teslas co-founder and chief technology officer JB Straubel said: Storage has been missing on the grid since it was invented.

Tesla is counting on the energy storage market as an important source of revenue and built its giant factory with that in mind.

The company believes its expertise in engineering and building electric cars sets itself apart from other battery farm developers. Tesla has been developing battery packs for a decade and improved the technology that manages the batteries temperatures, which can be high enough to pose a fire risk.

Overheating is a well known problem for lithium-ion batteries, which require insulating materials and software to keep them running cool. A battery farm built next to a wind farm in Hawaii by a now-bankrupt company caught fire in 2012 and temporarily put a dampener on the energy storage market.

Tesla has been building another battery farm on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, and has projects in Connecticut, North Carolina, New Zealand and the UK.

The company is looking for opportunities to build battery farms outside of California, including the East Coast and countries such as Germany, Australia and Japan. Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has said in the past that the companys energy storage business could one day be bigger than its car business.

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Rex Tillerson: an appointment that would confirm Putin’s US election win

The president-elect is reportedly favouring the Exxon Mobil CEO but experts say the Senate may bridle over a realpolitik choice that would benefit Russia

If Rex Tillerson is nominated as the next secretary of state, it would confirm Vladimir Putin as one of the strategic victors of the US presidential election.

Barack Obama has ordered an inquiry into covert Russian intervention in the campaign, which the CIA says was designed to secure a victory for Donald Trump. But whether or not Russian intervention made a significant difference to the outcome, a Tillerson appointment would represent a significant gain for Moscow.

While the other leading candidates for the job hold largely traditional and adversarial views on Russia, the outgoing chief executive of Exxon Mobil has a history of close business ties to Putin, who bestowed the Order of Friendship on Tillerson in 2013.

The Wall Street Journal reported: Friends and associates said few US citizens are closer to Mr Putin than Mr Tillerson.

The 64-year-old Texas oilman spent much of his career working on Russian deals, including a 2011 agreement giving Exxon Mobil access to the huge resources under the Russian Arctic in return for giving the giant state-owned Russian oil company, OAO Rosneft, the opportunity to invest in Exxon Mobils operations overseas.

Tillerson is also friends with the head of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, a former interpreter who worked as chief of staff for Putin when he was deputy mayor in St Petersburg in the mid-1990s. Sechin, sometimes described as the second-most-powerful man in Russia, is now under US sanctions. He has said that one of his ambitions is to ride the roads in the United States on motorcycles with Tillerson.

The 2011 Exxon-Rosneft agreement was frozen when sanctions were imposed on Russia in 2014, following the annexation of Crimea and covert military intervention in eastern Ukraine. Exxon Mobil estimated the sanctions cost it $1bn and Tillerson has argued strenuously for the measures to be lifted.

We always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who are they really harming with sanctions, he said, at a shareholders meeting.

In June, two years after sanctions were imposed and in an apparent show of support for Sechin, Tillerson reportedly turned up at a St Petersburg economic summit.

If the sanctions were lifted, the Arctic project would probably go ahead and Tillersons retirement fund of Exxon Mobil stock would increase in value. He would most likely have to divest himself of stock by the time he entered the office on the seventh floor of the state department. It might be harder to divorce his judgments entirely from the oil company where he spent his career.

Trumps choice of Rex Tillerson suggests he wants to make good on his promise to cut deals with Russia instead of containing it, said Thomas Wright, who has written extensively on Trumps foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

Tillerson has a relationship with Putin and he opposed the sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea. This will alarm those worried about Russian intentions in Europe.

Praising Tillerson in an interview with Fox News Sunday, Trump said: To me a great advantage is that he knows many of the players in the world and he knows them well.

Lest there be any doubt about which players the president-elect had in mind, Trump added: He does massive deals in Russia not for himself, but for the company.

A culture of intimidation

Stacks and burn-off from the Exxon Mobil refinery, at dusk in St Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

In a very real sense, Tillerson has been a head of a state within a state. Exxon Mobil is bigger economically than many countries. It has its own foreign policy and its own contracted security forces.

As a state, it has much in common with the one run by Putin and Sechin.

Reporting on Exxon was not only harder than reporting on the Bin Ladens, it was harder than reporting on the CIA by an order of magnitude, said Steve Coll, who wrote about the company in a book, Private Empire.

They have a culture of intimidation that they bring to bear in their external relations, and it is plenty understood inside the corporation too. They make people nervous, they make people afraid, Coll, now a journalism professor at Columbia University, told Texas Monthly.

Running the state department would not be like running Exxon Mobil, however. For a start, Tillerson would have to audition in front of a sceptical Senate. On Saturday, leading Democrats were painting him as a Moscow stooge.

The New Jersey senator Bob Menendez said on Twitter: Rex Tillerson as secretary of state would guarantee Russia has a willing accomplice in the presidents cabinet.

With a slim 52-48 majority, it would only take three Republican senators in revolt to cast Tillersons job in doubt. He would face aggressive questioning from Republican foreign policy hawks, led by John McCain.

I have obviously concerns about his relationship with Vladimir Putin, who is a thug and a murderer, but obviously we will have hearings on that issue and other issues concerning him will be examined and then its the time to make up your mind on whether to vote yes or no, the Arizona senator told CNN on Saturday.

McCains former chief of staff, Mark Salter, was far more blunt on Twitter. Tillerson would sell out Nato for Sakhalin oil and his pal, Vlad, he wrote. Should be a rough confirmation hearing, and a no vote on the Senate floor.

Even if Tillerson were to be confirmed, he would not take over the state department with a free hand to rewrite policy. He would face a striking culture clash with the institution, the bastion of foreign policy orthodoxy, which would have an ally in the secretary of defence nominee, retired general James Mattis, who is likely to oppose any erosion of Nato solidarity in the face of Moscows assertiveness in Europe.

Nevertheless, Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Endowment Moscow Center, argued: Tillerson as secretary of state would signify the greatest discontinuity in US foreign policy since the end of the cold war.

Not just in US-Russian relations: a Trump-Tillerson foreign policy would be squarely focused on US national interests, rather than on its global pretensions or any ideology.

Trenin added: It would be hard-nosed and no-nonsense, not averse to the use of force, but in response to a real rather than imaginary threat. In one word: realist.

That is a change that would be undoubtedly be welcomed by Putin, whose vision of foreign policy centres on spheres of interest controlled by global powers, run by strongmen like himself.

Andrei Kozyrev, a former Russian foreign minister, argued that the Kremlin should be careful what it wishes for.

The paradoxical situation now is that Russia is hoping for a US foreign policy based on realpolitik rather than on values, but that would be a disaster for Russia, said Kozyrev, who is now at the Wilson Center thinktank in Washington.

Why? Because the only interest America has in ending the conflicts in eastern Ukraine or in Syria is actually in American values that America should be concerned and do everything to alleviate the humanitarian situation and they should help nations to find their path to democracy.

The realpolitik situation is that Russia is stuck in both military conflicts. If you look at this with a cold eye, you say: Let them go on and let them enjoy the disaster they have in eastern Ukraine, Kozyrev said.

Look at Syria. By realpolitik the Americans would rather sit and wait while Russia draws on its resources and gets into bloody conflict.

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