- Nuclear power in the United Kingdom
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Nuclear power currently generates around a sixth of the United Kingdom's electricity. As of 2011, the United Kingdom operates 19 nuclear reactors at nine locations. The country also operates a nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield.
The United Kingdom's first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1956 and, at its peak in 1997, 26% of the nation's electricity was generated from nuclear power. Since then a number of stations have closed and the share had declined to 19.26% by 2004 and approximately 16% by 2009. The two remaining Magnox nuclear stations and two of the seven AGR nuclear stations are currently planned for accounting purposes to close by 2016. This is a cause behind the UK's forecast 'energy gap', though secondary to the reduction in coal generating capacity. However older AGR nuclear power station have been life-extended, and it is likely many of the others can be life-extended, significantly reducing the energy gap.
In October 2010 the Government of the United Kingdom gave the go-ahead for a new generation of up to 8 nuclear power stations to be built. The Scottish Government, with the backing of the Scottish Parliament, has however made it clear that Scotland will have no new nuclear power stations and is aiming instead for a non-nuclear future.
All nuclear installations in the UK are overseen by the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
- 1 History
- 2 Economics
- 3 Waste management and disposal
- 4 Decommissioning
- 5 Safety
- 6 Public opinion
- 7 Nuclear power in Scotland
- 8 Power stations
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) was established in 1954 as a statutory corporation to oversee and pioneer the development of nuclear energy within the United Kingdom.
The first station to be connected to the grid, on 27 August 1956, was Calder Hall, although the production of weapons-grade plutonium was the main reason behind this power station. Calder Hall was the world's first nuclear power station to deliver electricity in commercial quantities (although the 5 MW "semi-experimental" reactor at Obninsk in the Soviet Union was connected to the public supply in 1954).
2002 Energy review
In relation to nuclear power, the conclusion of the Government's 2002 energy review , carried out by the Performance and Innovation Unit, was that:
- The immediate priorities of energy policy are likely to be most cost-effectively served by promoting energy efficiency and expanding the role of renewables. However, the options of new investment in nuclear power and in clean coal (through carbon sequestration) need to be kept open, and practical measures taken to do this.
The practical measures identified were:
- Continuing to participate in international research.
- Ensuring that the nuclear skill-base is maintained, and that the regulators are adequately staffed to assess any new investment proposals.
- Shortening the lead-time to commissioning, should new nuclear power be chosen in future.
- Permitting nuclear power to benefit from the development of carbon taxes and similar market mechanisms.
- Addressing the problems of long-term nuclear waste disposal.
It went on to state that Because nuclear is a mature technology within a well established global industry, there is no current case for further government support and that the decision whether to bring forward proposals for new nuclear build is a matter for the private sector.
2003 Energy White Paper
The Government's Energy White Paper, published in 2003 and titled "Our Energy Future - Creating a Low Carbon Economy"  concluded that:
- Nuclear power is currently an important source of carbon-free electricity. However, its current economics make it an unattractive option for new, carbon-free generating capacity and there are also important issues of nuclear waste to be resolved. These issues include our legacy waste and continued waste arising from other sources. This white paper does not contain specific proposals for building new nuclear power stations. However we do not rule out the possibility that at some point in the future new nuclear build might be necessary if we are to meet our carbon targets.
2006 Energy review
In April 2005, advisers to British Prime Minister Tony Blair were suggesting that constructing new nuclear power stations would be the best way to meet the country's targets on reducing emissions of gases responsible for global warming. The energy policy of the United Kingdom has a near-term target of cutting emissions below 1997 levels by 20%, and a more ambitious target of a 80% cut by 2050.
In November 2005 the Government announced an energy review , subsequently launched in January 2006, to "review the UK's progress against the medium and long-term Energy White Paper goals and the options for further steps to achieve them" .
Critics of nuclear power have suggested that the main reason behind the review is to provide a justification for the building of a new generation of nuclear reactors. They also say that doing so will not be able to help meet the 2010 target due to the length of time needed to plan, construct and commission such power plants, and will be too late to fill the 'Energy Gap' predicted to result from the closure of existing nuclear and coal fired power stations. However backers say nuclear power will help meet the longer term target of a 60% cut by 2050. (wikinews) The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, expressed reservations about the 2006 Energy Review, its dependence upon nuclear power and its likely impact upon London and Londoners.
2007 High Court ruling
On February 15, 2007, environmental group Greenpeace won a High Court ruling that threw out the government's 2006 Energy Review. Mr Justice Sullivan presiding held that the government's review was 'seriously flawed', in particular in that key details of the economics of the argument were only published after the review was completed. Justice Sullivan held that the review's wording on nuclear waste disposal was "not merely inadequate but also misleading", and held the decision to proceed to be "unlawful". Judicial review proceedings were instigated by Greenpeace in October 2006.
Responding to the news, Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said that there would be a fresh consultation, but that a decision was required before the end of 2007. He stated that the government remains convinced that new nuclear power plants are needed to help combat climate change and over-reliance on imported oil and gas.
Greenpeace hold the view that carbon emissions can be cut more cost-effectively by investment in a decentralised energy system that makes maximum use of combined heat and power and renewable energy sources.
Attention was drawn in the media to numerous connections to nuclear industry lobbyists within the Labour Party .
The 2007 Energy White Paper: Meeting the Energy Challenge was published on May 23, 2007. It contained a 'preliminary view is that it is in the public interest to give the private sector the option of investing in new nuclear power stations'. Alongside the White Paper the Government published a consultation document, The Future of Nuclear Power together with a number of supporting documents. One of these, a report by Jackson Consulting, suggests that it would be preferable to site new power stations on existing nuclear power stations sites that are owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority or British Energy. Greenpeace responded to the release of the consultation document by repeating its position that replacing the nuclear fleet rather than decommissioning would only reduce the UK's total carbon emissions by four percent.
On September 7, 2007 several anti-nuclear groups including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, CND and the WWF announced that they had pulled out of the consultation process. They stated that it appeared as if the Government had already made up its mind regarding the future of nuclear power. The business and enterprise secretary, John Hutton, responded in a Radio 4 interview "It is not the government that has got a closed view on these issues, I think it is organisations like Greenpeace that have got a closed mind. There is only one outcome that Greenpeace and other organisations want from this consultation."
In a speech to Greenpeace on 6 December 2007 about energy generation, David Cameron spoke of replacing large scale generation by government and big energy companies with "decentralised energy" such as CHP . The speech did not mention nuclear power. Also on 6 December 2007 the Conservative Party released a green paper entitled "Power to the People: The Decentralised Energy Revolution" . In a similar vein to David Cameron's speech, this paper made no mention of nuclear energy other than to note that it currently accounts for 18% of the UK's energy generation.
2008 Go-ahead given
In January 2008, the UK government gave the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations to be built. However, the Scottish National Party (SNP)-led Scottish Government has made clear that it opposes new nuclear power stations being built in Scotland and has the final say on planning matters in Scotland. Liberal Democrat spokesman Steve Webb MP said on 9 January 2008 "There is a real risk that focusing on new nuclear plants will undermine attempts to find a cleaner, greener, more sustainable and secure solution. We should be concentrating our efforts on renewables and greater energy conservation." On 10 January 2008, Alan Duncan MP issued a response to the Government's announcement on nuclear power, welcoming it and suggesting that the Conservatives supported a level economic playing field for different types of energy generation rather than a preference for one over another .
So far, two consortia (EDF-Centrica and RWE-E.ON) have announced plans to build a total of 12.5GW of new nuclear capacity; this is slightly more than the total capacity of British Energy's currently operating plants. A third consortium (Iberdrola - SSE - GdF-Suez) has also announced plans to acquire sites and build, but has not commented on the amount of capacity planned. Sweden's Vattenfall is known to be seeking partners for participation in new UK nuclear generation.
As of 2009 government officials believe a carbon price floor will need to be set to encourage companies to commit funds to nuclear build projects.
2009 to present
In November 2009, the Government identified ten nuclear sites which could accommodate future reactors.
- Bradwell in Essex
- Sellafield in Cumbria
- Heysham in Lancashire
- Hinkley Point in Somerset
- Oldbury in Gloucestershire
- Sizewell in Suffolk
- Wylfa in North Wales. (However, the Welsh Assembly Government remains opposed to new nuclear plants in Wales despite the approval of Wylfa as a potential site)
Most of these sites already have a station; the only new sites are Braystones and Kirksanton.
In February 2010 Jonathan Leake of The Times reported that Research Councils UK, had committed to a 20-year research and construction plan that would see a nuclear fusion power station in operation in the UK by around 2030. The accuracy of the report was denied by Research Councils UK.
In October 2010, sites at Braystones, Kirksanton and Dungeness were ruled out by Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne with the former government's list of eleven potential sites reduced to eight.
Following the 2011 Fukushima I nuclear accidents Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, wrote to Dr Mike Weightman, head of the HSE's Nuclear Directorate, on March 12, asking for a report 'on the implications of the situation and the lessons to be learned for the UK nuclear industry. The report is to be delivered within 6 months, with an interim report by mid-May, 'prepared in close cooperation with the International nuclear community and other nuclear safety regulators'. On March 15, Huhne expressed regret that that some European politicians were 'rushing to judgement' before assessments had been carried out, and said that it was too early to determine whether the willingness of the private sector to invest in new nuclear plants would be affected. In the wake of the accident the Government was criticised for having colluded with EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse in order to manage communications and maintain public support for nuclear power.
As of 2011, the government's programme to build new nuclear power stations in England will be "delayed by at least three months so that lessons can be learned from the accident at Fukushima in Japan".
The history of nuclear energy economics in the UK is mixed. Early generation reactors (Magnox) were not built for sole commercial considerations while later reactors faced delays (culminating in Sizewell B taking 7 years from start of construction to entering service, after a lengthy public enquiry). Costs have also been made problematic by a lack of national strategy or policy for spent nuclear fuel, so that a mixed use of reprocessing and short-term storage have been employed, with little regard for long-term considerations (though a national depository has been proposed).
There is a lack of consensus in the UK about the cost/benefit nature of nuclear energy, as well as ideological influence (for instance, those favouring 'energy security' generally arguing pro, while those worried about the 'environmental impact' against). Because of this, and a lack of a consistent energy policy in the UK since the mid-1990s, no new reactors have been built since Sizewell B in 1995. Costs have been a major influence to this (with Sizewell B having run at a cost of 6p/kWh for its first five years of operation), while the long lead-time between proposal and operation (at ten years or more) has put off many investors, especially with long-term considerations such as energy market regulation and nuclear waste remaining unresolved.
Planned power stations
It is current UK Government policy that the construction of any new nuclear power stations in the UK will be led and financed by the private sector. This transfers the running and immediate concerns to the operator, while reducing (although not eliminating) government participation and long-term involvement/liability (nuclear waste, as involving government policy, will likely remain a liability, even if only a limited one). EDF Energy and RWE have expressed an interest in participating in the construction of a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain provided that a suitable carbon price on coal and gas generation is set. However in 2010 the Daily Telegraph reported that additional incentives, such as capacity payments and supplier nuclear obligations, would be needed to persuade companies to build nuclear plants in the UK.
When the rest of the UK generating industry was privatised, the Government introduced the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation, initially as means of supporting the nuclear generators, which remained under state ownership until the formation of British Energy. British Energy, the private sector company that now operates the UK's more modern nuclear plants, came close to bankruptcy and in 2004 was restructured with UK government investment of over £3 billion, although this has since been paid back in full. In January 2009, British Energy was bought for approximately £12 billion by EDF Energy (a subsidiary of Électricité de France (EDF)) and Centrica (a major operator of CCGT power stations and renewable sources in the UK and parent company of British Gas) in an 80/20 split.
There are several reasons to expect significant improvement if new third generation nuclear power stations are built:
- modern designs are simpler, use fewer materials and require less on-site fabrication
- the designs are internationally standardised, so reducing "first of a kind" costs
- big-project management techniques have improved over the last 15 years
- more competitive international process for letting a nuclear construction contract
- turnkey (fixed price) contracts rather than the cost-plus contracts that were characteristic of past UK nuclear construction
- the most recently built nuclear stations elsewhere in the world (in China and South Korea) have already achieved lower build cost and quicker construction times
As of 2011 no third generation power station has been completed in Europe to confirm these improvements. Construction of the first such power station, a European Pressurized Reactor at Olkiluoto in Finland, is running at least three years behind schedule, with the parties in arbitration to resolve responsibility for cost overruns, creating doubts that recent improvements sufficiently improve construction costs. The BBC reported in July 2009 that Olkiluoto was running three years and €1.7 billion euro over budget. However some observers suggest that such delays should be expected as this is the first reactor of its kind and the contractors are not used to working to the standards of the nuclear industry. The project is based on a "turnkey" contract which means the price to the customer is fixed regardless of the delays.
Construction of a second reactor of the same design started in 2007 at Flamanville in France, but in 2010 and 2011 EDF announced delays and cost increases that nearly doubled construction time and costs, with an updated completion date of 2016, nine years after the first concrete was poured.
In January 2008, the UK government indicated that it will take steps to encourage private operators to build new nuclear power plants in the coming years to meet projected energy needs as fossil fuel prices climb, however there would be no subsidies from the UK government for nuclear power. The Government hopes that the first station will be operational before 2020. However, the Welsh Assembly Government remains opposed to new nuclear plants in Wales despite the approval of Wylfa as a potential site. Scotland has decided against new nuclear power stations (see paragraph below).
In May 2008, the head of the world's largest power company suggested that the Government has significantly underestimated the cost of building new nuclear power plants. The Times has reported that Wulf Bernotat, chairman and chief executive of E.ON, estimates that the cost could be as high as €6 billion (£4.8 billion) per plant, which is much higher than the Government's £2.8 billion estimate. The cost of replacing Britain's ten nuclear power stations could therefore reach £48 billion, excluding the cost of decommissioning ageing reactors or dealing with nuclear waste.
Waste management and disposal
The UK has a large variety of different intermediate- and high-level radioactive wastes, coming from national programmes to develop nuclear weapons and nuclear power. It is a national responsibility to pay for the management of these. In addition, new nuclear power stations could be built, the waste management from which would be the private sector's financial responsibility, although all would be stored in a single facility. Most of the UK's higher-activity radioactive waste is currently held in temporary storage at Sellafield.
On July 31, 2006, the latest body to consider the issue of long-term waste management - the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) - published its final report . Its main recommendation was that geological disposal should be adopted. This would involve burial at a depth between 200 – 1000m deep in a purpose-built facility with no intention to retrieve the waste in the future. It was concluded that this could not be implemented for several decades, and that there were social and ethical concerns within UK society about the disposal option that would need to be resolved as part of the implementation process. Such a repository should start to be closed as soon as practicable rather than being left open for future generations. 14 additional recommendations were also made.
On June 12, 2008, a white paper, Managing Radioactive Waste Safely, A Framework for Implementing Geological Disposal was published confirming CoRWM's conclusion of geologic disposal of higher-activity wastes. The policy announcement confirmed that there would be one geologic disposal site, for both national legacy waste as well as potential wastes from future programs. It announced that a process of volunteerism would be used in selecting a suitable site and invited communities from the UK to express interest. They would be rewarded by the infrastructure investment for the facility, jobs for the long term and a tailored package of benefits.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), formed in April 2005 under the Energy Act 2004, oversees and manages the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK's older Magnox power plants and the reprocessing facilities at Sellafield, which were transferred to its ownership from BNFL, and the former nuclear research and development facilities previously run by the UKAEA.
Prior to the 2002 white paper Managing the Nuclear Legacy, the cost of decommissioning these[vague] facilities had been estimated at around £42 billion. The white paper estimated the costs at £48 billion at March 2002 prices, an increase of £6bn, with the cost of decommissioning Sellafield accounting for over 65% of the total. This figure included a rise in BNFL's estimated decommissioning liabilities from £35 billion to £40.5 billion, with an estimate of £7.4 billion for UKAEA.
In June 2003 the Department of Trade and Industry estimated that decommissioning costs, including the cost of running the facilities still in operation for their remaining life, were approximately £56 billion at 2003 prices, although the figure was 'almost certainly' expected to rise. This estimate was revised in subsequent years; to £57 billion in September 2004; £63 billion in September 2005; £65 billion in March 2006; and to £73 billion in March 2007. Around £46 billion of the £73 billion is for the decommissioning and clean-up of the Sellafield site.
In May 2008 a senior director at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority indicated that the figure of £73 billion might increase by several billion pounds.
In addition to The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's costs, British Energy's liabilities in relation to spent nuclear fuels have risen. In February 2006 it was reported that these had increased to £5.3 billion, an increase of almost £1 billion. The costs of handling these is to be met by the Nuclear Liabilities Fund (NLF), the successor to the Nuclear Generation Decommissioning Fund. Although British Energy contributes to the NLF, the fund is underwritten by the Government. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee noted in 2007 that British Energy may lack an incentive to reduce the eventual liabilities falling to the Nuclear Liabilities Fund.
Until the expansion of nuclear power in the 1980s, seismic activity in the UK had not received a great deal of attention. As a result of the new interest in the topic, the British Geological Survey published a catalogue of earthquakes in 1994.
Although earthquakes are relatively frequent, they rarely cause damage to well constructed structures. Two of the largest, estimated at approximately 5.75 (moderate) on the Richter scale occurred in 1382 and 1580. Evaluation of past earthquakes indicates that the UK is unlikely to be subject to earthquakes larger than a magnitude of approximately 6.5.
The occurrence of tsunamis impacting the UK is rare, with only two (possibly three) having been identified; a 3m high wave as a result of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and a 21m high tsunami in 6100 BC which occurred under very different geological conditions. In recent years there has been an accumulation of evidence indicating that the 1607 Bristol Channel floods may also have resulted from a tsunami that rose from a height of 4m to over 6m as it passed up the channel.
A 2005 report for DEFRA, conducted following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, found that, discounting 'exotic events such as meteorite impacts', 'in most plausible circumstances it is likely that such an event would be contained by current defences, designed to resist storm surges, for all major developed areas', however the joint occurrence of events, such as a tsunami coinciding with a storm surge, was discounted. The report did, however call for additional more detailed modelling to be carried out, recommended that the Met Office should provide a tsunami warning service, and that detection devices should be upgraded. A follow-up report indicated that, of the three likely scenarios modelled, a Lisbon-type event would pose the greatest danger, potentially resulting in a tsunami wave exceeding the 1:100 year extreme sea level at the Cornish peninsula by up to 1.4m, but being within the range elsewhere. This conclusion is markedly different from the greater heights calculated by Bryant and Haslett as having been encountered in the Bristol Channel during the 1607 Bristol Channel floods.
Speaking before the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee on March 15, 2011, about the Fukushima I nuclear accidents, Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne expressed concern over extreme weather events in the UK, but stated that 'we are lucky that we do not have to suffer from tsunamis'.
Nuclear power accidents in the UK Date Location Description INES level Fatalities Cost
8 October 1957 Windscale Windscale fire ignites plutonium piles, with large radioactive release. 5 33 - 120 (estimates; due to increased cancer risk) 78 19 April 2005 Sellafield 20 tonnes of uranium and 160 kg plutonium leak from a cracked pipe at the Thorp nuclear fuel reprocessing plant 2 0 65
In the early 1990s concern was raised in the United Kingdom about the effect of nuclear power plants on unborn children, when clusters of leukaemia cases were discovered nearby to some of these plants. The effect was speculative because clusters were also found where no nuclear plants were present, and not all plants had clusters around them. Detailed studies carried out by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) in 2003 found no evidence of raised childhood cancer around nuclear power plants, but did find an excess of leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) near other nuclear installations including Sellafield, AWE Burghfield and UKAEA Dounreay. COMARE's opinion is that "the excesses around Sellafield and Dounreay are unlikely to be due to chance, although there is not at present a convincing explanation for them".
An opinion poll in Britain in 2002 by MORI on behalf of Greenpeace showed large support for wind energy and a majority for putting an end to nuclear energy if the costs were the same. In November 2005 a YouGov poll conducted by business advisory firm Deloitte found that 36% of the UK population supported the use of nuclear power, though 62% would support an energy policy that combines nuclear along with renewable technologies. The same survey also revealed an unrealistic public expectation for the future rate of renewables development - with 35% expecting the majority of electricity to come from renewables in only 15 years, which is more than double the government's expectation.
In the early 2000s there was a heated discussion about nuclear waste, leading to the creation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (see above).
A large nationally representative 2010 British survey about energy issues found that public opinion is divided on the issue of nuclear power. The majority of people are concerned about nuclear power and public trust in the government and nuclear industry remains relatively low. The survey showed that there is a clear preference for renewable energy sources over nuclear power.
According to a national opinion poll, support for nuclear power in the UK dropped by twelve percent following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Other polls have shown the opposite trend, with support increasing following the Fukushima disaster. 
Nuclear power in Scotland
Though the UK Government has recently given the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations to be built, the Scottish Government has made clear that no new nuclear power stations will be built in Scotland and is aiming instead for a non-nuclear future. This was made clear when, First Minister Alex Salmond said there was 'no chance' of any new nuclear power stations being built in Scotland. The Government's stance has been backed by the Scottish Parliament that voted 63-58 to support the Scottish Government's policy of opposing new nuclear power stations.
About half of Scotland's electricity comes from the Hunterston B and Torness nuclear power plants. Scottish leaders hope to replace these with renewables when they close in 2016 and 2023 respectively.
Power Station Type Net
Oldbury Magnox 434 1962 1967 1968 2012 Wylfa Magnox 980 1963 1971 1972 2012 Dungeness B AGR 1110 1965 1983 1985 2018 Hinkley Point B AGR 1220 1967 1976 1976 2016 Hunterston B AGR 1190 1967 1976 1976 2016 Hartlepool AGR 1210 1968 1983 1989 2019 Heysham 1 AGR 1150 1970 1983 1989 2019 Heysham 2 AGR 1250 1980 1988 1989 2023 Torness AGR 1250 1980 1988 1988 2023 Sizewell B PWR 1188 1988 1995 1995 2035
Since 2006 Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B have been restricted to about 70% of normal MWe output because of boiler-related problems requiring that they operate at reduced boiler temperatures. This output restriction is likely to remain until closure. The Oldbury and Wylfa stations are the World's last two operational generation I reactors.
In 2010, EDF Energy announced a 5 year life extension for both Heysham 1 and Hartlepool to enable further generation until 2019.
Power Station Type Net
Closure Calder Hall Magnox 200 1953 1956 1959 2003 Chapelcross Magnox 240 1955 1959 1960 2004 Berkeley Magnox 276 1957 1962 1962 1989 Bradwell Magnox 246 1957 1962 1962 2002 Hunterston A Magnox 300 1957 1964 1964 1990 Hinkley Point A Magnox 470 1957 1965 1965 2000 Trawsfynydd Magnox 390 1959 1965 1965 1991 Dungeness A Magnox 450 1960 1965 1965 2006 Sizewell A Magnox 420 1961 1966 1966 2006
A number of research and development reactors also produced some power for the grid, including two Winfrith reactors, two Dounreay fast reactors, and the prototype Windscale Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor.
- Nuclear energy policy
- Economics of new nuclear power plants
- Nuclear or Not?
- Politics of the United Kingdom
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- Taxpayer liable for nuclear clean-up
- Lack of engineers puts government's nuclear power ambitions at risk
- The nuclear reaction - A tour of Britain's nuclear power stations
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