UK Budget: Why Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is dead wrong about nuclear power – Dr Richard Dixon

The nuclear industry and their friends are stepping up their propaganda war but their terrible track record shows that new reactors are still not the answer to reducing emissions or supplying affordable power.

The Committee on Climate Change, official advisors to the UK and Scottish governments, produced a report on future energy, which included some new nuclear power stations. This takes its lead from promises already made by the UK Government but contradicts the new energy strategy from the Scottish Government.

The committee sees today’s 5GW of nuclear capacity – about the size of Scotland’s peak demand for electricity on a cold winter’s day – increasing to 10GW by 2035. But all of the five currently operating nuclear plants will be closed by or in 2035, including Scotland’s only power reactors at Torness, due to close in 2028 – if they can keep the cracks in the core at bay that long. In fact, from sometime in 2028 the only existing station still expected to be running is Sizewell B, supposed to be producing just over 1GW until it shuts in 2035.

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So 10GW of capacity in 2035 needs to come from new reactors. Of course, Hinkley C is under construction. But it is ten years late and double the budget agreed as recently as 2016. It is now expected to begin generating electricity in mid-2027, although recent rumours suggested that discussions between the operator EDF and the UK Government considered a start date as late as 2036. If Hinkley Point C is ever finished and actually works, it is supposed to produce just over 3GW of very expensive electricity.

The UK Government recently committed to try to get the Sizewell C station built (on a coastal flood plain). Academics predict it will take 15-17 years to build, so it would not be producing its 3GW of electricity until 2039 at the earliest. The only two other reactors being built in Europe, in France and Finland, are 12 and 13 years late.

With the old stations all closed, Sizewell C probably not running until the 2040s, Hinkley Point C producing 3GW and little interest in other sites around the UK it is very hard to see how the Committee on Climate Change’s 10GW by 2035 could possibly happen. To be fair, they do describe this target as “a very significant undertaking”.

The committee also suggests that costs will fall for reactors built after Hinkley Point C. This has always been the claim by the nuclear industry but somehow it is never the reality. To help this all along, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt yesterday announced nuclear is to be reclassified as “environmentally sustainable” – even though it is the ultimate unsustainable form of energy.

The Committee on Climate Change foresees 10GW of nuclear power that cannot possibly be in place by 2035. Yet they also want wind power capacity to reach 75GW and solar capacity to be at 65GW by the same date. Just trying hard on using energy more efficiently and going faster on a range of renewable would mean we would not have to bet on an industry that repeatedly fails to deliver, nor worry about creating yet more radioactive waste.

Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant



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