Can nuclear power help UK meet its energy demands?

Highlights

  • Continuous increase in gas prices, fear of rise in energy bills, global energy shortages and an ambition to have net zero carbon by 2050 have increased the debate around nuclear energy.
  • The UK urgently needs to fund and invest in new energy infrastructure to replace depreciated and polluting energy generation sources.
  • The UK government is also in discussion regarding proposals for a new nuclear power plant at Wylfa on Anglesey and EDF Energy also asked government to make decisions concerning the Sizewell C project.

Continuous increase in gas prices, rising energy bills, global energy shortages and an ambitious goal to have net zero carbon by 2050 have fueled the debate whether the UK should opt for nuclear energy.

The Boris Johnson is in a tizzy with the skyrocketing energy bills and an increasing demand of energy with winter around as more power is required to heat and light homes. With the UK’s electricity sources running low on fuel, the government officials are now facing up harsh reality of meeting country’s long-term energy needs, and huge cost involved it.

Tim Stone, Chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, said that all UK’s energy will come from clean and renewable sources by 2035 and if the British government is serious about its goal, they will allow a new fleet of nuclear power plants to be develop.

Sources said the UK government knows that the nation cannot meet its net zero targets until nuclear energy is made part of the country’s energy mix. 

Currently, UK generates about 17% of its energy from nuclear power. However, almost half of current capacity will phase out or will be phased out by 2025 and out of eight power stations seven are due to be closed until 2030, except Sizewell B. The only new rector due to come on stream in 2026 with the second in 2027 is EDF’s Hinkley point project.  

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The UK government is also in discussion regarding proposals for a new nuclear power plant at Wylfa on Anglesey and EDF Energy also asked government to make decisions concerning the Sizewell C project. The Anglesey has right geology, crucially, broad community support and cooling water. 

Johnson said that the long-term investments may reduce the cost of energy and help in going up to 40 GW by 2030. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that the UK Treasury will fund £30 million to Westinghouse and Bechtel to develop plant at Wylfa. The US businesses will move rapidly in Design stage which will further take two years of the 12-year project.

In January, Horizon Nuclear Power withdrew its application to develop two advanced boiling water reactor units at Wylfa and on 23 September, the Welsh Affairs Committee held a one-off evidence session on a new nuclear power plant at Wylfa. 

The Westinghouse and Bechtel consortium has benefit of building the Wylfa plant faster as it is approved for the AP1000 reactor and is also proposing the building of the hydrogen energy and modular reactor project at the Wylfa. Further they are also proposing to develop Shearwater Energy in UK.

The AP1000 reactors would have the same modular design as the six units recently completed elsewhere in the world, the last two at plant Vogtle in US. The project will create around 10,000 jobs locally and across the country and will bring university students to offer apprentice programme to work on the project.

Rolls-Royce has also proposed large small modular reactors (SMRs) in Wylfa that can take two to four large scale reactors and multiple small modular rectors. The Nuclear power benefit is energy density as the country’s entire nuclear fleet takes up to 0.8 of a square mile.

Each small modular reactor has capacity of 440MW of energy at a cost of around £2 billion each Hinkley point C has capacity of 3,200MW at cost of around £20 billion. 

Also read: UK mulls ban on China’s investment in the nuclear energy sector

The country’s regulatory standards are the toughest globally and that’s a big issue in this sector. If leading nuclear technology is not adopted, the UK will always fall short domestically and globally. France has one of the cleanest grids in the world and its 75% of energy comes from nuclear. 

The UK government needs to grant funding to become an exporter of technology as it is one of the early pioneers of nuclear power and even if Hinkley precedes the plan and if no more rectors are built, the nuclear capacity will decrease by about half to 4.4 GW by 2030.

Around 1GW of energy powers around 2 million homes and building Wylfa and other plants would deliver electricity for decades, Life of these rectors are at least 60 years. 

Bottom Line

The UK urgently needs to fund and invest in nuclear energy infrastructure to replace depreciated and polluting energy generation sources. Around 26 power stations have been closed since 2016, which used to generate around 20% of the energy and it is believed that further 35% of the existing generation capacity will be close down by 2030. The UK government has already committed not to use coal by 2025 and the reducing capacity needs investments and replacement to keep pace with existing levels of demand, which is forecasted to be double by 2050.  

Also read: Is there a massive global energy crisis in the offing?

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