The charge towards a new generation of nuclear power is gathering pace. NCE looks at the plans and speaks to EdF about the challenges of building the first UK plants for 20 years.
More from: Nuclear special: Power players
Attitudes to nuclear power have changed since the catalogue of disasters and accidents which culminated in the Chernobyl fire of 1986. There is growing international concern for the environment and the development of a new generation of reactors which promises passive safety features and significantly lower volumes of radioactive waste.
French energy giant EdF has vowed to connect its first new generation nuclear power station into the national grid by 2017. Its German counterpart RWE is aiming to follow suit by 2021.
The nuclear option now has a definite “green” tinge, especially as the father of the environmental movement, James Lovelock, now backs nuclear as a pragmatic way for Britain to cut CO2 emissions.
Replacing baseload capacity is not enough. Efforts to decarbonise transport and heating will lead to higher electricity demand
That said, there are political battles ahead. Raising the price of carbon and penalising fossil fuel generators is being demanded by nuclear promoters but this could lead to the politically unattractive option of higher electricity bills.
But the UK government and the main opposition parties now agree that action needs to be taken to restore the nation’s energy generation mix and provide security of supply.
Existing power stations are coming offline at an alarming rate. All Magnox nuclear plants will have closed by 2015, and all of the more modern AGR stations by 2023. In addition, older coal plants are continuing to come offline, so the prospect of an energy gap remains real.
Replacing existing capacity is not enough. Efforts to decarbonise transport and heating will lead to higher electricity demand. Furthermore, new capacity must also be green to satisfy demands for an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050 and to meet European Union emissions targets.
New capacity must be green to satisfy demands for an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050 and to meet European Union emissions targets.
Wind will help to remove the need for fossil fuel plants to operate all the time, and will thus be effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But the intermittency of wind means many argue it cannot be used as a baseload power source.
Expense remains a worry, not least as nuclear sites under construction at Flamanville in France and Finland are currently running late and over budget.
But energy secretary Ed Miliband claims that by the time new plants are under construction here, any problems will have been ironed out.
Two reactor designs are under consideration - the EdF/Areva European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), and the Westinghouse/ Toshiba AP1000 Pressurised
Water Reactor (PWR). EdF/Centrica, Horizon (RWE/ Npower), and a GDF Suez, Iberdrola and Scottish and Southern Energy joint venture are vying to build new plants.
EdF/Centrica is pushing the EPR design, a design which EdF is using at Flamanville.
UK government agrees that action must be taken to restore the nation’s energy generation mix and provide security of supply.
Meanwhile, Horizon is expected to construct an AP1000 design similar to those now under construction in China. Ten sites have been approved in the government’s nuclear national policy statement (NPS). Another three could be considered post-2025.
When one of the three developers submits its applications to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), the nuclear NPS will form the basis of the final planning decision.
EdF/Centrica has submitted proposals for twin EPR reactors at Hinkley Point and Sizewell.
First round consultation was completed at Hinkley Point in January and tenders are expected to be issued for advance ground work next month. full submission for these new reactors is expected by the end of the year.
Three more submissions will be made in 2011 − EdF’s Sizewell C EPR, and Horizon’s plans for Wylfa in Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire.