UK 'hasn't invested enough' in domestic energy says Johnson

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As part of its new Energy Security Strategy, the Government announced back in April that it would be investing more than £2.1billion into new and advanced nuclear power projects. They said: “We’re embracing the safe, clean, affordable new generation of nuclear reactors, taking the UK back to pre-eminence in a field where we once led the world.” According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the UK is looking to boost its nuclear power capacity threefold to 24 gigawatts by the year 2050. They added: “These ambitions could see our nuclear sector progressing up to eight more reactors across the next series of projects, so we improve our track record to deliver the equivalent of one reactor a year, rather than one a decade.”

It is important to note, however, that “the equivalent of one reactor a year” over eight years does not mean we will see any of these power plants come online this side of the decade.

The problem, as Rystad Energy analyst Karan Satwani notes, is that nuclear power plants “take on average seven years to build, and the permitting process can take far longer”.

For example, Hinkley Point C — the UK’s first new nuclear power plant to be built in some two decades — was given the go-ahead in 2008 and first announced to the public in 2010.

Even on the projects’ original schedule, the reactor was not expected to be fully operational until 2023. Since the announcement, however, the development has fallen billions of pounds over budget and is not expected to be completed now until 2026 at the earliest.

And Hinkley Point C is not alone. Another reactor of the same European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) model is also being constructed by EDF at the Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant in Normandy, France.

Despite initial promises in 2007, that reactor construction would take four-and-a-half years, the project is now more than five times over budget and still not completed.

With all this in mind, some experts have called into question whether an investment in nuclear power in the medium term is really the best strategy — both from the perspective of addressing the current energy crisis, but also from the point of view of helping to cut carbon emissions in time to reach net zero by 2030.

Nuclear energy consultant and anti-nuclear activist Mycle Schneider said: “Nuclear power is slow and expensive.

“By the time this new generation of nuclear plants come online, it will be too late.”

On the energy supply front, the dilemma is compounded by the fact that — according to recent analysis by Carbon Brief — the UK’s nuclear output has now plunged to its lowest level since 1982.

Last year, for example, saw a nine percent drop in nuclear production thanks to a combination of outages and the retirement of facilities like Scotland’s Hunterston B reactor, which recently ended its 46-year term of service.

The UK’s ageing nuclear fleet is expected to be further diminished over the coming years, with all except Suffolk’s Sizewell B facility scheduled to be decommissioned by 2030.

Because of this, both the already long-awaited Hinkley Point C and the planned Sizewell C reactors will not so much add to our nuclear capacity as simply maintain it.

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On the energy supply front, the dilemma is compounded by the fact that — according to recent analysis by Carbon Brief — the UK’s nuclear output has now plunged to its lowest level since 1982.

Last year, for example, saw a nine percent drop in nuclear production thanks to a combination of outages and the retirement of facilities like Scotland’s Hunterston B reactor, which recently ended its 46-year term of service.

The UK’s ageing nuclear fleet is expected to be further diminished over the coming years, with all except Suffolk’s Sizewell B facility scheduled to be decommissioned by 2030.

Because of this, both the already long-awaited Hinkley Point C and the planned Sizewell C reactors will not so much add to our nuclear capacity as simply maintain it.

For many experts, a more speedy solution to the present energy and climate crises might be found in tapping into onshore wind.

As climate charity Possible’s campaign manager Alethea Warrington told the Guardian: “Given the urgency with which we need to clean up our energy supply and cut energy bills, the sluggish timeframes for new nuclear power projects risk leaving people at the mercy of gas markets for far too long.”

“Wind projects commissioned now can be up and running before the end of next year, while the most recent nuclear projects, announced in 2010, won’t produce any energy until 2026 at the earliest.”

Despite being more viable as a solution to short-term shortfalls — not to mention significantly cheaper to tap into — the Government has shown a reluctance around onshore wind, ostensibly because the public considers visible turbines to be an eyesore.

However, even the Government’s own research suggests that this concern is overrated, with four out of five members of the public being behind onshore wind and, according to a poll commissioned by RenewableUK last year, support is actually slightly higher among those who already have experience living with five miles of a wind farm.

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