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Could the UK see its Largest Nuclear Power Expansion in 70 Years?

Sizewell B Nuclear Power Plant

The Government has today set out plans for establishing Britain’s biggest nuclear power expansion in 70 years. Ministers are hoping to build fleet of reactors to meet 1/4 of the country’s electricity demands by 2050, boosting the UK’s energy independence. However, concerns have been raised surrounding project delays and rising costs.

The nuclear roadmap

Ministers published a roadmap on Friday that recommits the Government to building a fleet of nuclear reactors capable of producing 24GW by 2050. Approval will be given for one or two new reactors every five years from 2030 to 2044, and backing given to another large-scale reactor in addition to Hinkley Point C in Somerset and the planned Sizewell C in Suffolk. Industry sources have stated that leading candidates would include Wylfa on Anglesey or Moorside in Cumbria.

The announcement also pledged £300m to produce nuclear reactor fuel in the UK, currently only commercially produced in Russia, which it said would lower bills and improve energy security.

Concerns: delays and costs

The Government announcement comes despite projects facing uncertainty over their costs and timescale. Since 2022, the developer of Hinkley Point C, EDF, has said the cost of Britain’s first new nuclear plant in a generation had gone up to £33bn, a 30% increase from 2015 when it forecast the cost at between £25bn to 26bn. There are also concerns that Hinkley’s start date may be delayed from the summer of 2027 to the early 2030s.

Britain’s nuclear power output fell to its lowest level in more than 40 years in 2023 after three reactors closed in the previous two years and statutory maintenance forced temporary shutdowns at four reactors. EDF said its nuclear output in the UK had fallen from a high point of 65 terawatt hours in 2016, from eight nuclear plants, to less than 40TWh in 2023.

EDF has said it would delay the shutdown of four of its UK nuclear reactors for at least two years to help plug the looming gap in the UK’s nuclear supplies towards the end of the decade. The company is pinning its hopes for its future nuclear generation on the delayed Hinkley Point C project and its planned successor project at Sizewell C in Suffolk, which has been planned for the past 12 years but has yet to receive a final investment decision.

Nuclear Power Plant Sizewell C
Sizewell C
Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power Plant Design
Hinkley Point C

Responses

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that the government’s latest support for the nuclear industry was “the next step in our commitment to nuclear power, which puts us on course to achieve net zero by 2050 in a measured and sustainable way. Nuclear is the perfect antidote to the energy challenges facing Britain – it’s green, cheaper in the long term and will ensure the UK’s energy security for the long term. This will ensure our future energy security and create the jobs and skills we need to level up the country and grow our economy.”

Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, said “Strengthening our energy security means that Britain will never again be held to ransom over energy by tyrants like Vladimir Putin. British nuclear, as one of the most reliable, low-carbon sources of energy around, will provide that security. From large gigawatt projects to small modular reactors, the UK’s wider nuclear revival will quadruple our nuclear capacity by 2050 – helping to power Britain from Britain”.

However, Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, said “Every few months the government makes a grandiose public announcement about future nuclear in the hope that a big investor will believe the hype and step up to fund this 20th-century technology, but it isn’t working. The energy industry knows that the economic case for slow, expensive nuclear just doesn’t add up, and the future is renewable. This vague, aspirational announcement with its unevidenced claims of cheap energy is unlikely to change their minds when there are real reactors overshooting their massive construction budgets and showing them the truth.”

Curia’s Energy Sustainability Commission

Curia’s Energy Sustainability Commission will investigate the different renewable energy sources available and examine how each source can complement the UK’s total energy network. Bringing together leaders from across the energy sector it will develop recommendations that support the implementation of the Government’s Net Zero and other strategies.

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