The UK government has announced its intentions to undertake the largest nuclear power expansion in 70 years.
The government has announced a proposal for what is said to be the largest expansion of nuclear power in Britain in 70 years. However, there are concerns about the decline in nuclear energy production and delays in project completion.
On Friday, government officials released a plan that reaffirms their commitment to constructing a group of nuclear reactors with the capacity to generate 24GW of power by 2050. This would be sufficient to fulfill a quarter of the country’s electricity needs.
From 2030 to 2044, one or two new reactors will receive approval every five years. In addition to Hinkley Point C and the planned Sizewell C, support will also be provided for another large-scale reactor. However, the projects may face uncertainties regarding their expenses and timeline.
The roadmap echoes plans put forward by the then prime minister, Boris Johnson, in 2022 to “build a new [reactor] every year” to wean Britain off fossil fuel.
The French company EDF, which is responsible for the development of Hinkley Point C, has announced that the cost of building Britain’s first new nuclear plant in decades has risen to £33bn. This is a 30% increase from the estimated cost of £25bn to £26bn in 2015. Additionally, there are worries that the project’s completion date may be pushed back from the original plan of summer 2027 to the early 2030s.
Sunak announced that the government’s most recent aid for the nuclear sector is a continuation of their dedication to nuclear energy, leading us towards reaching net zero emissions by 2050 in a responsible and sustainable manner.
According to him, nuclear power is the ideal solution for Britain’s energy challenges. It is environmentally friendly, more cost-effective in the long run, and will guarantee the country’s energy security for years to come. Furthermore, this will promote our energy security in the future and generate employment opportunities and necessary skills, leading to the development of our economy.
In January, EDF announced a two-year postponement of the shutdown of four UK nuclear reactors in order to address the potential shortage of nuclear energy in the country towards the end of the 2020s.
The nuclear energy production in Britain decreased to its lowest point in over four decades in 2023 due to the closure of three reactors in the past two years and required maintenance resulting in temporary shutdowns at four reactors. EDF reported a decline in nuclear output in the UK from a peak of 65 terawatt hours in 2016, generated by eight nuclear plants, to less than 40TWh in 2023.
The company is relying on the Hinkley Point C project and the proposed Sizewell C project in Suffolk as its main sources of nuclear power in the future. Despite being in the works for 12 years, the Sizewell C project has not yet received a final decision on investment.
Jess Ralston, an analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), expressed hope that the government’s significant financial support for the nuclear industry will encourage additional private sector investment.
According to Ralston, the problem is that the industry has a history of going over budget and falling behind schedule. Therefore, this does not significantly improve the UK’s energy security in the near future.
Doug Parr, the chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, stated that the government often makes extravagant public declarations about the future of nuclear power in hopes of attracting large investors. However, this strategy has not been successful in securing funding for this outdated technology.
Parr added that the energy sector is aware that relying on slow and costly nuclear energy is not a viable option and that the future lies in renewable sources.
“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.”