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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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The UK Is Ramping Up Its Nuclear Energy Ambitions

  • The U.K. government aims to rapidly expand its nuclear energy sector, with two nuclear plants slated for the next decade and discussions around a third.
  • The government hopes to meet up to 25 percent of the country’s electricity demand using nuclear power sources by 2050.
  • The approval of new nuclear facilities demonstrates the U.K. government's dedication to a future powered by clean nuclear electricity.
Energy

The U.K. government has ambitious plans for the rapid expansion of the country’s nuclear energy sector, with two nuclear plants slated for the next decade, and discussions around a third. EDF’s Hinkley Point C in Somerset and Sizewell C in Suffolk have both been approved by the government, expected to support the U.K.’s transition away from fossil fuels to greener alternatives in line with national climate pledges. 

The U.K. government has announced ambitious nuclear plans in recent years, aiming for the biggest expansion in nuclear power for 70 years. It hopes to meet up to 25 percent of the country’s electricity demand using nuclear power sources by 2050. This will mean a fourfold increase in the U.K.’s nuclear power production, to achieve an output of 24 GW by the mid-century. The Civil Nuclear Roadmap outlines the government’s nuclear plans, including the development of major nuclear facilities, as well as its small modular reactor (SMR) technology. The government also plans to invest up to $381 million in the domestic production of the fuel required to power high-tech new nuclear reactors, known as HALEU, currently only commercially produced in Russia.

Hinkley Point C, to be located in Somerset in the southwest of England, could provide as much as seven percent of the country’s electricity once fully operational. It is expected to provide enough clean electricity to power six million homes for 60 years once complete. The French firm EDF operates all five of the nuclear power plants currently in the U.K. 

The cost of development has increased significantly since EDF first gained project approval in 2012, which could make it the world’s most expensive nuclear plant. EDF previously stated that it expected the plant to cost around $22 billion, but it increased that estimate to around $58.4 billion earlier in the year. Its completion date has also been delayed by three to four years, expected to be completed by 2031. The firm blamed inflation, Covid, and Brexit for cost increases and project delays. While there were some public concerns for the price increase, a government spokesperson made it clear that the plant is “not a government project” and stated, “any additional costs or schedule overruns are the responsibility of EDF and its partners and will in no way fall on taxpayers.” 

In May, EDF was granted a site license by the U.K.’s nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), for the development of its Sizewell C nuclear plant in Suffolk, in the south of England. This is the first of this type of license to be granted in over a decade. Sizewell C is expected to be a replica of the company’s Hinkley Point C. EDF is racing to reach a final investment decision on the project by the end of 2024. 

Unlike Hinkley, EDF holds just under a 50 percent stake in Sizewell, with the government holding just over 50 percent. The company is now seeking new investment following the banning of China’s CGN from funding the development due to security concerns. The French firm hopes to use lessons learned from the development of Hinkley to construct Sizewell within around nine years. 

Now, the U.K. government is in discussion over another potential nuclear plant development in Wales. The government announced it is holding conversations with major energy companies about the construction of a third new nuclear plant on a site at Wylfa on Anglesey in north Wales. The development of an additional site would help the U.K. to achieve its nuclear energy goals by the mid-century. There are reports that South Korea’s state-owned nuclear developer has been involved in early-stage discussions with the government about the multi-billion construction using APR1400 reactor technology. However, the American nuclear firm Westinghouse and the construction group Bechtel have shown interest in developing the project using Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor technology.

Claire Coutinho, the secretary of state for energy security and net zero, stated “Anglesey has a proud nuclear history and it is only right that, once again, it can play a central role in boosting the UK’s energy security. Wylfa would not only bring clean, reliable power to millions of homes – it could create thousands of well-paid jobs and bring investment to the whole of north Wales.” Meanwhile, Tom Greatrex, the CEO of the Nuclear Industry Association, stated, “A large-scale project at Wylfa would be the single biggest inward investment in Welsh history and a huge step towards both energy security and net zero for the whole country.”

The approval of new nuclear facilities demonstrates the dedication of the U.K. government to a future powered by clean nuclear electricity. The development of the U.K.’s nuclear energy capacity will help the government achieve its climate pledges and shift away from fossil fuels in favor of renewable alternatives. Should the Wales plant gain approval, this will put the U.K. well on its way to achieving the nuclear power targets outlined in its roadmap for 2050. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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