Clean Power

Published on February 14th, 2013 | by James Ayre


New Nuclear Power In The UK Looking Increasingly Unlikely

February 14th, 2013 by  

The UK government has been planning the development of a ‘next generation’ of nuclear power plants in the region for some time, but with the price of renewables falling quickly and the costs of nuclear rising, it is looking increasingly likely that the plans will have to be scrapped. There are also other important issues with new nuclear; such as the unresolved issue of nuclear waste, and its dependence on further subsidies, which will be illegal under European Union rules.

Investors have been steadily dropping out of plans. The British utility company Centrica is just the latest to pull out of the program. This week it wrote off £200 million ($315 million) while doing so, following on the heels of previously involved German utilities. In order for the program to still go forward, the government would need to break “two important electoral pledges and may face legal challenges that it intends to breach European Union subsidy rules in guaranteeing a minimum price for nuclear power,” Climate Central writes.

Construction delays and rising costs seem to be an issue with new nuclear everywhere in the world, not just the UK. The French nuclear industry, arguably the strongest in the world, has been facing numerous delays in the development and construction of its new power plants, and rapidly rising costs.

“Centrica’s chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, said the company had pulled out because the project was more costly and extended further into the future than had been planned four years ago. Together with its partner, the French government-owned EDF, Centrica has spent close to £1 billion ($1.5B) on the project and is now writing off its 20 percent share of £200 million ($315M), concentrating instead on renewables and natural gas for electricity generation.”

Essentially, renewable clean energy technologies are a better choice than nuclear in every way. They are cheaper, faster to build, don’t create radioactive waste, aren’t as susceptible to environmental disasters, don’t require the same level of safety measures, and have far more public support. At current rates of growth, renewables are predicted to generate more electricity in the UK than nuclear by 2018, and expected to power 1 in every 10 homes in the UK by 2015.

And the issue of nuclear waste is still very much a problem in the UK. Just last week, the Cumbria County Council rejected the government’s plans to dump the nation’s nuclear waste in the Lake District. And with no alternative locations put forward yet, the government still doesn’t know what to do with its growing nuclear waste. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee just released a new report on Monday detailing (and highly critical of) the rising costs of dealing with such waste.

Image Credits: power plant in UK by Jonathan Brennan via Flickr CC

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • The photo of Drax Power Station on this page belongs to me and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence. This means that if you continue to use it, attribution must be credited to me.

    The original posting og the image is on Flickr, here:

    I realise that you may have obtained the image from another source.

    Many thanks

    Jonathan Brennan

    PS – Drax is coal-fired, capable of co-firing biomass and petcoke, and not nuclear.

    • Hello, thanks, we’ve got a credit on the bottom of the article, but i’ll go ahead and add your name and also move that to underneath the image. Thanks.

      • Actually, given that it’s a pic of a coal power plant & the article is about nuclear power, i simply removed the image. But I left the credit at the bottom of the article and also added your name to it. The image still shows on Facebook shares.

  • Todd

    As solar and wind energy are making advancements, so too is nuclear. Nuclear’s advancements were essentially proven out in the 1960’s, but a certain cold war intervened.
    “Friends of the Earth” is aware of the “nuclear green revolution” and is considering changing their anti-nuclear stance.

    Thorium 101 for Human Beings (use thorium instead of uranium, safer, cheaper, more abundant, more efficient, less waste, cannot be used for nuclear weapons, etc)

    Books published in 2012 regarding fourth generation safe, efficient nuclear power plants.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Nuclear appears to be grinding to a halt.

      There are no Gen IV reactors. Only unproven ideas on paper.

      There are no operating thorium reactors. And no reason to believe that they would be cheaper to construct than uranium-fueled reactors.

      Nuclear is simply priced off the table. We’re seeing paid off reactors in the US having trouble staying in business due to the price competition from wind and natural gas.

      Solar is going to give built nuclear plants headaches as it reduces peak hour wholesale electricity, which nuclear depends on for its profits. We’re seeing solar coming on line at just over 10 cents per kWh. Nuclear can’t compete with that.

  • Bob_Wallace

    It was announced in the last few days that the Crystal River (Florida) reactor would be shut down for good. It needed extensive repairs and calculations found that it would never turn a profit.

    We’ve got a Wisconsin reactor shutting down in a few months because it’s getting under priced by wind and natural gas.

    The US is on track to enter 2014 with two fewer reactors.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 reactor is going to be even later than late coming on line. It was just announced that it probably won’t start up until at least 2016.

    That would put it over seven years past schedule. Work began in in 2005, with the reactor initially supposed to begin producing electricity in 2009.

  • MieScatter

    Maybe renewables are better than nuclear, although they cannot provide baseload without the extra cost of storage or backup.

    But is coal and gas better than nuclear?

    The choice isn’t between nuclear and renewables. Because renewables will not provide 100% of electricity before at least 2050, the choice from now until then is what do we have alongside renewables: coal, or nuclear?

    The anti-nuclear greens are voting for coal. I would vote for nuclear.

    • Ross Chandler

      Baseload isn’t a fixed requirement. It is being reduced by demand management. That is a problem to be addressed during the transition rather than a reason not to do it.

      On cost, safety, security and waste management grounds nuclear plays itself off the pitch.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Renewables with the extra cost of storage and backup are cheaper than nuclear.

      And cheaper than coal.

      There is no way we could convert our way to nuclear by 2050. We could, however convert our grid to mostly renewables well before then. And have much cheaper electricity.

      “The anti-nuclear greens are voting for coal.”

      And that is an absolute crock.

    • Ronald Brakels

      We don’t have baseload power plants in South Australia and, hey look, I can still type this! We have one functioning coal plant, but it is seasonal load following and currently shuts down for half the year when electricity prices are too low for it to turn a profit. So coal plants or any other form of baseload power plant is not required.

      But I do encourage you to build nuclear plants in your country. We have a lot of radioactive material cluttering up our mines in South Australia that we’d like to get rid of. (You’re not in New Zealand, are you? New Zealand’s a bit close.)

  • Dimitar Mirchev

    Czech atomic-plant at Temelin is also in question. The other planned nuclear reactor in Romania is also in the limbo – the government does not have money and there are no investors.

    In my country – Bulgaria – we canceled the plan for new nuclear power plant at Belene ( 2×1000 MW) and the latest government plans are to add one (or more) nuclear reactor at our operational NPP”Kozloduy”. This could change in the summer parliamentary elections.

    But if UK and Czech Republic cancel their plan for new reactor this is going to be huge pressure for both Bulgaria and Romania to finally stop wanting new reactors. Since we are going to be the only ones with plans for new reactors in EU.

    • Yep, nuclear only goes in where governments agree to cover absurd cost overruns. Private investors won’t mess with it — the financial risk is insane.

      I think Poland is moving forward with nuclear plans. But as you say, if the UK and Czech drop their plans soon, Poland might reconsider. We’ll see.

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