Hinkley Point C Photo

Is It Ethically Correct For The Construction Of Hinkley Point C To Continue?

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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.

Hinkley Point C PhotoA 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.

57 thoughts on “Is It Ethically Correct For The Construction Of Hinkley Point C To Continue?

  1. There are a lot of contentious issues here which you recognise. The point regarding a reliable energy source in nuclear power as we move to less carbon intensive energy infrastructure is important. I think construction should go ahead as it does provide a buffer zone between the move from the past to the future in terms of energy transition. It is the lesser of a few evils (for now) it seems, though I do not believe we should come to be over-reliant on more plants.

  2. What does EDF stand for please?

    Your comments on the Strike Price are very strong. Very good point.

    Could you talk about Care Ethics too? Such as the relationship between the government and the UK consumers/electorate?

    1. EDF stands for ‘Électricité de France,’ a state-owned french utilities company, primarily focused on Nuclear Power.

      Care ethics could come into this discussion, especially considering the comparative effect on UK citizens vs. the citizens of France or China. The UK government has a responsibility of care to its own citizens primarily, especially with the upcoming departure from the EU. Continuing to supply wealth to a company outside of the UK instead of focusing on domestic resources/options could be a large risk to its own electorate.

  3. Great points are made on both sides of this argument. Despite the somewhat immoral contribution of the plant to nuclear weapon advancement, I think construction of the plant should go ahead. As stated, the plant will make huge contributions to achieving targets set in the Paris Agreement, and as one of the richest countries in the world we should be leading the way in achieving carbon neutral status. Hopefully, by achieving this, countries like the US will follow our lead in the fight against climate change, which I believe to be a bigger threat than nuclear warfare at this time.

  4. Both sides of the argument are backed up with strong, valid reasoning. The lack of impartiality on the determination of the strike price is worryingly immoral. However, I think choosing the path of greater reliance on nuclear energy is essential for this country. As a reliable main source of energy producing much much less CO2 than conventional means, and in a world where global warming is having increasingly devastating effects, I feel the UK has a duty to embrace nuclear energy and set an example to the rest of the world. The influx of jobs would surely strengthen the economy, and I feel that a deal with a more-than-financially-stable China on a huge engineering project does not reflect the main concerns of the vast majority of people who voted to leave the EU in this country.

    Additionally, I feel we can, and should, shake the bad press that nuclear energy has attracted in the past for isolated incidents that have been down to human error (Chernobyl), or huge natural disasters (Fukushima) that would never occur in this country.

  5. There is an unquestionable need for a reliable source of power to provide a constant buffer load to the national grid. Since this is currently supplied by coal and oil power stations which are unsustainable because of their carbon dioxide emissions, a nuclear power station is a viable and realistic green alternative. The UK needs to move to nuclear energy, following the path of countries like France, which have around 75% nuclear power.

    Although it was mentioned that continuing with constructing the plant could contribute to advancements in nuclear weaponry, I would argue that these advancements would be made regardless of the power station being built if the government continues to provide funding for nuclear programmes, such as Trident.

  6. A very well written article with both sides of the argument argued fairly. Considering the points raised I believe the construction of Hinkley Point C should go ahead, even though excellent arguments against have been proposed. A good counter argument is put forward about the advancement of nuclear weapons, but I do not believe this immoral standpoint is enough to outweigh the good that can come from carrying on with the construction, such as the 25,000 jobs or the contribution to the economy.

    The UK needs to take pro-active steps to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to set an example for the rest of the world, and with renewable energy currently not being a suitable option due to its reliability I think the way forward is to continue with the construction Hinkley Point C. Excellent information has been provided about the ‘strike price’ and the potential of the taxpayer having to pay for the difference.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Upon reflection it is likely that nuclear weapons would be developed regardless of Hinkley point C construction continuing whilst ever public opinion wants them. I am inclined to agree that the positive consequences of construction continuing such as the creation of jobs and the production of urgently required electricity supply outweigh the negative consequences such as the creation of an eyesore and the increased cost of electricity. This is because only a small number of people will be affected by the eyesore and the increased price will be distributed since energy suppliers wont buy their electricity from just one power station. While the electricity supply is required by everyone in the country and the jobs created will affect 25,000 people for the next 50+ years at least. From a utilitarian argument the construction should go ahead because the pleasure brought by the construction continuing is greater than if it does not since both more people are affected by the jobs and availability of electricity supply and the pleasure experienced is greater job for life compared to eyesore.

  7. Good points of discussion. Although I think the Hinkley Point C construction should continue. In the mission to transform the UK into pioneers in low-carbon infrastructure, this project is crucial. With a lot of power plants built over 40 years ago, their service life is coming to an end. The power deficit this creates needs to be compensated for somehow. Our national power requirement is only likely to increase as the population grows.

    From a business standpoint, the construction brings continued prosperity to the region with jobs, revenue and socio-economic benefits. The withdrawal from the European Union does not benefit the region much as it increases cost for future investors. It might be worth noting that although articles claim that jobs were created, it doesn’t outline the individuals and families that have been relocated for the sake of the project. No care for the sentimental values held by these families to the region.

    As oil and gas reserves deplete, the energy price is only likely to increase however not in the immediate future. This may result in the construction prolonged even further to reap the profits when nuclear fuel prices rise. At which point, the world may be ready for the next generation of nuclear reactors making Hinkley Point C obsolete.

  8. I agree with the objections against the construction of Hinkley that the risk on the tax payer and UK government is disproportionate and unethical for the reasons given.

    However, you state that it is unethical for Tony Blair to overrule a judges decision that a consultation procedure in influencing the UK Government’s position on nuclear energy was unjust. You argue this on account of the judges role in our society as being one of virtue, therefore the overruling of him could be seen as a poor ethical standpoint from the perspective of virtue ethics. Whilst this point is true, I wonder if this argument could be equally applied to the role of Tony Blair in the society of 2006. As the leader of the voted in party, it could be argued that from a utilitarian ethical standpoint his decisions best reflects the interests of the majority of the country due to the nature of our democratic government. Hence, I would question whether the judge or Tony Blair has a larger ethical weight behind their decisions.

    1. Thank you for your comment Nicole. This is an interesting point and I do think that since Tony Blair was voted in by the public it would be reasonable to expect that his views mostly agreed with the those of the public at the time suggesting that his views were normative of the public’s and therefore the decision to over-rule could be correct from a duty ethics argument. However, the major problem I think with this argument is that the views of a judge are much more likely to be aligned with those of the public; very few people would disagree with the conclusion drawn by a judge whereas it would not be uncommon for many people to disagree with a political leader. This suggests that the judge’s views are more normal and I would therefore argue that even from a duty ethics argument (as well as virtue ethics) Tony Blair was still wrong to go against the judge’s decision.

  9. A well reasoned piece that assess both sides of the argument. In terms of providing a reliable source of energy I think that the project should go ahead. In order to cut our GHG emissions and meet the Paris agreement more efforts must be made, and I feel that nuclear energy is a stepping stone to achieving this goal. I am interested to know how the waste will be dealt with. I think this has ethical implications, especially regarding the burden placed on future generations.

    1. Hey can you confirm what GHG stands for please?
      Also I agree that is an excellent point in terms of dealing with the waste as there is currently no plan for Hinkley’s radioactive material produced.

  10. Brillant article. In my point of view, it is fine to continue building the nuclear power station. As mentioned in the article, the power station can bring more jobs to the UK, which means a lot of people will benefit from it directly, moreover, the nuclear power station can provide more electricity, which definitely will cut everyone’s electricity bills somehow. so It is a long-term investment.
    The investment from France and China cannot affect UK economy as it is just one power station, the UK power does not only rely on one power station, right? It is a win-win business.

  11. Both case advance good ethical positions. I think you have to broaden the perspective and look at the opportunity costs as well. Going for more distributed generation with solar and tidal plus smart grid management would have the same ethical benefits with none of the disbenefits. So to build Hinckley C as a nuclear generation plant is unethical.

  12. Hello, very well written article which states both advantages and disadvantages of the nuclear power station.
    Even thought this plant will create jobs for thousands of people, in the short term the citizens of the United Kingdom may be against this action as it will result to higher taxation. There are currently other renewable sources of energy (wind, solar, hydro) with low carbon emissions available in the UK, which provide a safer environment to the citizens in comparison with the nuclear plant.

  13. I must say that the article gives really convincing arguments against the construction of Hinkley Point C. Considering the potentially unethical moves that have been made to justify its construction as well as confirming the prices of energy, one can think that it just isn’t worth it. On top of this, I’m not convinced that it can provide baseload capacity and protection from a capacity shortage. I believe that the Uk is currently considering the installation of energy storage to help with regulating the grid, as well as a decent back up. Yes, it may be expensive, but so is Hinkley Point.

    From a duty ethics perspective, one can see that Tony Blair had the responsibility to pay attention to what the judge said, and do as suggested. His recognizing the judge’s decision yet still moving ahead with government policy makes one question how much the government really cares about its populace, especially since they were placed there electorally. Building for larger energy capacities is great, but in this particular case, it is clear that things were simply set up once the government had made up its mind, which shows a bit of stubbornness on their part, to some of the public’s chagrin.

  14. In some senses I do agree that the cost of the electricity generated being twice the market rate makes the construction of the power station unethical through utilitarianism since it will cause displeasure to the consumer paying the higher cost. However the utilitarian framework does not consider the the distribution of this pleasure. I think that the construction should go ahead because the local residents of Hinkley have so much to gain as life-long jobs will be created. I would argue that this must be more valuable/important than peoples electricity bills being increased slightly.

  15. Comment by ‘fenderkruse’:

    So you would lose all those jobs and have a half built nuclear reactor?

    It seems like the good absolutely outweighs the bad, especially when you look at the clean energy aspect.

  16. Comment by ‘MouseWithSpectacles’:

    Thanks for posting this CMV, it’s both well-researched and original.

    The guaranteed price of energy generated at Hinkley (or ‘strike price’) has been set at £92.50 per megawatt-hour,

    Point of clarification: does this mean that the price is guaranteed to be at most £92.50, at least £92.50, or exactly £92.50?

    Assuming that it means exactly, I think that it’s plausible that the wholesale price could reach this level, or at least get close, given enough time. As of 2016, 56.6% of power generation in the UK was fossil fuel based. Based on this, we would expect the price of electricity to increase as the price of fossil fuels increases. I don’t know if the UK has a carbon tax, but either introducing one or increasing an existing carbon tax would increase the price of electricity coming from fossil fuel powered plants. An increase in demand could also lead to an increase in price.

    In addition, remember that if the project is cancelled, the government would have to spend money elsewhere to create other jobs. And if more fossil fuel based generation capacity is added to make up for the loss of point C, that carries an environmental cost as well. Even cancelling the project has costs, and they may well be worse than simply subsidizing the electricity generated at point C.

    With all the above considered, I believe the UK government should step in and halt the construction immediately

    If we’re debating what the UK government should do, I would suggest that there are a number of better options than simply calling a halt to the entire project. For example, one of your complaints is that:

    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.

    First of all, I have a question here: is the economic risk in this situation entirely due to the fact that the government has to pay the difference between strike price and wholesale price, or has the government also agreed to take other economic risks?

    In any case, rather than simply cancelling the project, what if the government instead refused to take those risks? If the investors still believed that the project was worthwhile, then they could still build the plant.

  17. Comment by ‘alpicola’:

    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.

    Nuclear weapons, like any other military asset, are important because of what they are capable of doing, whether or not they are ever used. The Cold War was a huge nuclear conflict that played out without a single nuclear weapon ever being launched because the shared understanding of the threat kept everybody in line. Maintaining the threat of nuclear capability may reduce the risk of actual harm, and hence be quite moral.

    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.

    There are many reasons why a policy might not change despite acknowledging a procedural violation during the policy’s development. It may be that the violation was on a minor factor in the ultimate decision, so removing that factor doesn’t make a significant difference. It may be that the policy is fully supported on other grounds. The judge may have made an error (they’re human, it happens). Without knowing more, it’s impossible to say that not changing the policy is immoral.

    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.

    I would consider this bad policy, but not necessarily unethical. Governments subsidize businesses all the time in various ways. To decide that a subsidy is unethical, you have to look at the reason for the subsidy. If it’s illegal or corrupt, then it is certainly unethical. If it’s simply due to a belief that nuclear power is important enough to warrant government aid, then it isn’t unethical even if I disagree with the government’s belief.

    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.

    As before, this may be bad policy, but not necessarily unethical, as long as it’s based on sincere beliefs rather than corruption.

    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 is hard to assess without a better definition of what it means to be “working for” EDF and also how closely LeighFisher is aligned with Jacob’s Engineering Group. There most certainly is a potential conflict of interest there, which would raise ethical concerns.

    Assuming the government is not acting out of corruption, is the conflict of interest enough of a moral hazard to stop construction of the nuclear plant? I would think not, because LeighFisher was not the final decision-maker regarding the strike price and the government had an opportunity to negotiate better terms. While the terms may not have been most favorable, it’s doubtful that the government missed by a factor of 40%, which is about what it would take for the strike price to match the wholesale price.

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