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UK seeks a nuclear energy renaissance – but experts question whether it’s value for money

The most powerful argument against nuclear could be economic as most plants take at least ten years to commission, design and build

inews, By Leo Cendrowicz, Brussels Correspondent, 21 Apr 23,

BRUSSELS – As Europe scrambles for new energy sources, Britain has joined the countries seeking a nuclear renaissance.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced last month the creation of Great British Nuclear, a body to oversee the roll-out of a fleet of nuclear power stations.

However, there are concerns about the environmental impact of nuclear, with campaign groups saying that the risks of nuclear reactions and the difficulties in disposing of nuclear waste mean it cannot be considered green.

And the most powerful argument against nuclear could be economic. Most plants take at least ten years to commission, design and build. Delays are frequent: Europe’s largest nuclear reactor, the Olkiluoto 3 plant in Finland, came online last week a full 14 years after its scheduled date, beset by technological problems that led to lawsuits – while its final price tag ballooned to around €11bn (£9.74bn), almost three times the initial estimate.

The steep upfront building costs for nuclear power plants, along with the long construction times, have raised questions about whether nuclear energy represents value for money.

Now that renewable costs are going down – especially in solar, wind and batteries – renewable is likely to be cheaper in the longer term, making nuclear commissions look less worthwhile.

The fact that Europe has built few nuclear plants since the boom wave of the 60s also means there is little expertise available across the value chain. The EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton has said a “colossal” investment in nuclear energy will be needed over the next 30 years to meet the EU’s emissions-reduction targets and electricity demand.

“The big question on nuclear is the economics of building new nuclear plants,” says Ben McWilliams, an energy research analyst at Bruegel – a Brussels-based think tank. “When you compare it to something like solar or wind, which are also modular technologies, so you can have much larger economies of scale – you have to ask if it is sensible to start building new nuclear plants that will come online in 15 or 20 years when they’re going to compete in a grid that should be largely renewable dominated?”

……………………………… France, Europe’s champion, has not been the best advertisement recently: last November, almost half of the country’s reactors were offline, thanks to maintenance issues in its ageing nuclear fleet.

The UK’s strategy is to focus on small modular reactors (SMRs) to ensure faster build times. These mini reactors would generate between 50 and 500 megawatts of power, compared with the 3.2-gigawatt Hinkley Point C in Somerset, the UK’s only large nuclear plant under construction, which is plagued by delays and cost overruns.

………………………….. . In February, 11 EU energy ministers signed a declaration committing to “cooperate more closely” across the entire nuclear supply chain and promote “common industrial projects” in new generation capacity as well as new technologies like small reactors.

While energy policy is mostly set at national level within the European Union, the long-term push is for green, renewable energy. The European Commission has attempted to nudge governments to wean themselves off fossil fuels, adopting a controversial measure that labels nuclear investments as sustainable “transitional” sources, if they replace dirtier fuels. Last Tuesday, Greenpeace and other campaign groups announced plans to take the Commission to the EU Court of Justice of the EU.


April 24, 2023 - Posted by | business and costs, UK

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