Hinkley Point C, is the first nuclear power station project in England for 20 years. With an estimated cost of £20.3 billion and numerous delays to completion, this project has been surrounded by contention. Considering that this essay concerns the moral dilemma of Hinkley Point C, not nuclear power in general, from the evaluation of ethical frameworks, and our own intuitive opinion, the government should halt construction.
The government should continue construction of Hinkley Point C
The development has the potential to create an estimated 25,000 high skilled jobs in the long term for the UK, and has already generated an ongoing 3,100 jobs (3) on the plant site. The project is also due to increase the region’s economy during construction. According to EDF, £200 million a year will be introduced to Somerset while the power station is under construction. This will ultimately help the local and wider UK economy. From a utilitarian point of view, all of these consequences from building Hinkley Point C will result in a net increase of happiness because employment and investment is generally seen to benefit the livelihoods of the people. It can therefore be seen to be ethically correct decision.
A major advantage to nuclear power is its ability to produce less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions compared to coal and oil power stations. Hinkley Point C, will therefore make a huge contribution in helping the UK meet its current climate change target as set in the Paris Agreement of 2016. In addition, EDF has committed to plant 20,000 trees throughout the project. It is generally accepted, by the public and United Nations, that meeting the paris agreement targets and ensuring the conservation of the local natural plant life is a morally correct standpoint. Therefore, from a deontological perspective, it is appropriate for the construction to go ahead.
Hinkley is set to generate 7% of the UK electricity which according to EDF will power around 6 million UK homes. The reliability of electricity supply is imperative for the running of the country’s infrastructure. Nuclear power is inherently reliable, which conversely is one shortfall of renewable energy sources. As a larger proportion of our electricity is coming from less reliable renewables each year, it is important to retain a ‘buffer’ of supply that a nuclear power station could provide. Having a more reliable infrastructure will result in less loss of wellbeing for residents of the UK through maintenance of access to services, and thus upholds a utilitarian argument for the construction to go ahead.
According to the Guardian, scientists from the science policy research unit at Sussex University suggest that the construction of new nuclear power stations reduces the cost of operating nuclear military capability by maintaining supply chains and skilled nuclear personnel. Furthermore, a survey by the Independent found that 51% of Britons would be in favour of renewal of the military’s nuclear weapons scheme. As the normative consensus in the UK is in favour of a nuclear weapons capability, one could argue that the construction should go ahead to satisfy a duty ethics’ moral perspective.
The government should halt construction of Hinkley Point C
Although the UK’s normative consensus of nuclear weapons may be in favour, from a virtue ethics standpoint one could see the decision to assist in a weapons programme as immoral. By definition, creating anything with the ability to hurt or maim others would refute a virtuous nature, and thus be an immoral act.
In 2006, a UK judge ruled that a consultation procedure in influencing the UK Government’s position on nuclear energy was unjust, following a lawsuit by Greenpeace. Tony Blair recognised the judge’s decision, however insisted it would not change any policy. Considering the virtuous nature of a judge, and their role in the justice of society, Mr. Blair’s decision to overrule him is unethical from a virtue ethics standpoint. As this consultation was a direct influence on the government’s standpoint on building new nuclear plants, such as Hinkley Point C, this would indicate it is an immoral decision to continue construction.
The project is funded by two companies, French EDF and Chinese CGN, totalling a $19.6 billion investment. One could argue that considering the UK public’s current standpoint on foreign influence on the economy and infrastructure, as echoed by the vote to leave the European Union, the deontological norm would imply that this is an unethical decision to allow to continue.
The guaranteed price of energy generated at Hinkley (or ‘strike price’) has been set at £92.50 per megawatt-hour, which would then rise with inflation. The current wholesale price per megawatt-hour is £56.50, if this figure does not rise enough to meet the ‘strike price’ by the time Hinkley Point C goes into operation, the UK government, and in turn the taxpayer, will foot the bill for the difference in cost. From a utilitarian perspective, considering there are cheaper energy sources available to purchase, forcing the taxpayer to pay more for the sake of having nuclear would be an unethical decision.
In addition, the ‘strike price’ set was decided from the potential construction costs of the reactors. Consultancy firm LeighFisher were paid £1.2 million to assess what these costs would accrue to. However, as the National Audit Office noticed, LeighFisher is owned by Jacob’s Engineering group, which was working for EDF at the time. A conflict of interest therefore exists as LeighFisher cannot have a bipartisan approach whilst being owned by a company that directly benefits from EDF’s success. This intuitively goes against our personal view of morality.
Much of the economic risk is being placed into the UK government’s responsibility, with the potential for payouts to foreign countries to continue for decades to come. From a deontological point of view, as living in a capitalist society, the norm would be for the private investor to accept the risk associated with a new venture, considering their potential to profit. This suggests that the government’s responsibility of risk is disproportionate and unethical.