Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

UK's deteriorating nuclear fleet poses risk to Net Zero carbon goals

Hunterston b nuclear power station (geograph 5851877)

The UK could exceed carbon limits if ageing nuclear plants are taken offline early, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has advised in a report. 

Cracks in the System warns that the UK’s existing nuclear plants may need to be taken offline earlier than expected due to a recurring fault with the advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that account for 14 of the 15-strong fleet in the UK.  

AGRs provide almost 20% of the UK’s energy, however due to their advanced age, the fleet is at risk of developing cracks in graphite bricks that make up the reactor cores. 

Such cracks have led to the shutdown of two reactors at Hunterston B in Scotland, which have been offline for over a year for safety inspections. 

There has been concern among the industry that similar cracks will develop in other AGR plants causing them to be taken offline as well for safety inspection as well, leanding to a gap in clean energy generation. 

Cracks in the System goes on to say that if renewable energy infrastructure isn’t expanded, gas-fired power plants may have to be used to fill the energy gap which will mean the UK exceeds its carbon reduction goals.  

ECIU head of analysis and author of the report Jonathan Marshall said the government has not considered the impact of reactors closing early due to these faults. “Although government has reduced forecasts for the amount of nuclear capacity Britain needs in recent years, no assessment has yet considered the potential impact of the early closure of the country’s ageing fleet of reactors,” he said.  

“If this happens it is unlikely that the lights will go out, but it could make hitting our carbon targets more challenging. Ministers need to decide how to prepare for this potential clean power gap therefore, and soon; accelerating renewables deployment is probably the best no-regrets short-term option, with consideration given to how to support new nuclear projects over the longer term.” 

Marshall also found that early decommissioning of AGRs would exacerbate the problems caused by cancellation of new nuclear stations at Wylfa Newydd in Wales and Moorside in Cumbria

ECIU director Richard Black said more would need to be done to ensure the UK power sector needed to do more to keep in-check with Net Zero goals. “Britain is already off-track on meeting the fourth and fifth Carbon Budgets, covering the periods 2023-27 and 2028-32 respectively, and the loss of another chunk of low-carbon power would make meeting these targets even more difficult,” he said. 

“Cleaning up the power sector has done the bulk of the heavy lifting in Britain’s recent decarbonisation and, if the Government does sign a target for net zero emissions by 2050 into law, it will have to do more. 

Marshall concluded that expanding renewable energy capacity, either through increasing development of offshore wind or via a combination of on- and offshore wind and solar was the only way to ensure no gap opens-up in the UK’s clean energy portfolio.  

Like what you’ve read? To receive New Civil Engineer’s daily and weekly newsletters click here. 

Readers' comments (1)

  • The time has come, and arguably nearly passed, for serious investment into the future of energy in this country. We must invest in Renewable and Nuclear power to provide Base plus load following power to the UK.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.