Nuclear power: What happens next?

Hitachi has scrapped plans to build a nuclear power station in Wales, while Rolls-Royce is reportedly in talks to supply one in Essex. Questions over the future of nuclear-based power continue to be raised.

The Wlyfa plant.
The proposed Wylfa Newydd plant in North Wales.

The £13bn Wylfa Newydd plant in Anglesey planned to have two nuclear reactors in operation by the mid-2020s, but Hitachi has halted work on the site due to rising costs.

The firm had been in talks with the British government about funding for the project, which was being built by its Horizon subsidiary, but an agreement could not reached. 

This comes after Japanese company Toshiba also abandoned its major nuclear project in Cumbria last November.

The move has come as a blow to the UK’s future energy supply plans, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has said.

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said: As the second cancellation of funding for a new nuclear plant in as many months, it leaves in doubt the UK’s ability to replace its existing nuclear fleet.

“Nuclear power is a vital part of our energy mix, and new projects are needed to secure our future low-carbon, mixed energy supply. It will also be a missed opportunity for the local community in Anglesey, with the loss of up to 10,000 new jobs at peak construction.”

The UK has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

A clean and sustainable energy supply, and reducing the impacts of climate change has become priority for countries across the globe as part of the Paris Agreement. Climate change was also found, in the World Economic Forum’s global risks report, to be the biggest concern for business in 2019.

Nuclear

A key benefit of nuclear power is that it produces electricity while being one of the most low carbon energy sources, according to EDF.

“We believe nuclear energy is essential to meet the UK’s clean energy needs. Together with renewables and energy efficiency, nuclear can reduce carbon emissions,” the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) says.

Last year across eight sites, nuclear energy supplied nearly 20% of UK electricity, with gas accounting for 39.4% and renewable energy supplying a record 33%, according to Carbon Brief.

 

Nuclear power’s biggest problem though, is its price tag. Building and maintaining complicated plants is very costly. Hinkley C, the nuclear power plant in Somerset is years behind schedule, and billions over budget.

Alongside Hinkley, there were five other plants with nuclear proposals: Moorside (Cumbria), Wylfa, Oldbury (West Midlands), Bradwell (Essex) and Sizewell (Suffolk). Three have been scrapped and two are yet to be approved. Of the eight sites currently generating power, the NIA report that only one is due to be in use by 2030.

Though, unlike solar or wind power, plants provide steady electricity, 24 hours a day without interference from factors like the weather.

However, advances in technology mean the price of renewable energy has dropped dramatically. It’s also a scalable option and the problems it can raise are not nearly as complex as nuclear ones.

Deputy chief executive, Emma Pinchbeck at RenewableUK, said in a statement that Hitachi suspending the plant “risks blowing a hole in the government’s plans to meet our carbon targets.”

Though she continued: “As the cheapest source of new power, onshore wind can make a major contribution to the UK’s clean growth ambitions. 

“We have a pipeline of shovel-ready onshore wind projects that can provide cheap power to consumers and help close the gap on our carbon targets and it’s time government allowed onshore wind compete on a level-playing field.”

Nuclear reactors are too incredibly complex, require extremely high safety precautions and any technical problems can cause long plant shutdowns. The issue of how to deal with nuclear waste in the long term is also an expensive and unresolved issue.

Rolls-Royce to supply Essex plant?

This week, Rolls-Royce has also reportedly confirmed it is in discussions to supply equipment for a Chinese backed nuclear plant in Essex.

china - depositphotos,
Rolls-Royce has been supplying equipment to Chinese power plants since 1994 – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) is “currently in the process of carrying out technical assessment work in order to inform their emerging proposals” on the Bradwell B Project.

This comes after Rolls-Royce renewed contracts for long-term services with Daya Bay and Ningde power plants in China.

Rolls-Royce has been supplying equipment to Chinese power plants since 1994.

Today, according to the company, it supplies technology to more than 70% of nuclear reactors in operation or under construction in China, as well as emergency diesel generators to almost 40% of Chinese units. 

Do we need nuclear? 

The UK has pledged to become a low carbon economy, but the question still remains of whether Britain needs nuclear to do this.

Nuclear does provide a steady and reliable energy source - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Nuclear does provide a steady and reliable energy source – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

If nuclear energy can be made economically viable, then Britain should use it. But increasingly so, it isn’t.

Nuclear does provide a steady and reliable energy source. Though renewable energy supplied a record 33% of the UK’s electricity last year, opposed to 19% from nuclear.

As technology advances, renewable energy has become cheaper and the logical energy source. It seems at this point nuclear energy – when economically feasible – is necessary in order for Britain to hit its emissions targets, though in the future it might not be required.

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