What is the future for UK nuclear energy?

Nuclear energy in the UK is fast approaching crisis point, with plans for a new £18billion power plant significantly delayed.

Why do we need new nuclear energy plants?

There is a danger of energy blackouts without a succession plan for replacing nuclear power plants that will soon be redundant. The UK’s existing nuclear plants will not be operational for much longer. As supply reduces, demand grows.

Gas and coal-fired power stations currently produce around 50% of the UK’s electricity. As North Sea production continues to fall, the UK is increasingly reliant on imported gas. In addition, new EU air quality rules mean that the UK’s remaining coal-fired power plants are expected to close by 2025.

What is the planned project?

The big hope is Hinkley Point C, announced by Gordon Brown in 2008 to be the first of a new batch of nuclear power stations. The government planned two 1,650-megawatt nuclear reactors, with an anticipated life span of 60 years. The £18bn project was designed to meet 7% of the country’s total energy needs, using new technology that is not yet in use anywhere else.

What’s the problem?

Originally designed to be operational by 2017, Hinkley power station remains largely undeveloped. It is to be built by EDF, but with the company in crisis, plans for UK nuclear power are heading the same way. EDF has been stalling the project due to debt of more than £28 billion. Its current projects in other countries are over budget and the new development has been the subject of fierce internal debate.

EDF’s finance minister recently resigned over the controversy, believing that the development could be the nail in the coffin for the company. The company has insisted the project will still go ahead, but it is clear that it will not be finished any time soon. New reactors are now not due to be delivered until late 2018.

Are there any viable alternatives?

Although renewable energy production is increasing, many argue that nuclear power will always be necessary alongside. Even if the UK could produce more hydro, solar and wind power, these cannot be relied upon as they are dependent on specific weather conditions.


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