Boris Johnson said expanding the use of nuclear energy would resist ‘bullying’ from Russia
The government has unveiled its new energy strategy which outlines plans to increase the UK’s nuclear capacity.
A new body called Great British Nuclear will be launched to focus on nuclear energy and eight new nuclear power stations will be built – one being approved each year until 2030.
Boris Johnson has said there must be a ‘series of new big bets’ on nuclear power to ensure the UK’s energy supply is ‘no longer at the mercy of bullies like Putin’ .
However, his plans have been met with Treasury reservations over the cost, with warnings issued that billions of pounds will have to be covered by bills.
But how many nuclear power stations does the UK already have and where is it proposed to build new ones?
How many nuclear power stations are there in the UK?
Eight nuclear power stations are currently in production in the UK.
- Hunterston, a coastal area of Ayrshire, Scotland
- Torness, east coast of Scotland
- Hartlepool, located in County Durham
- Heysham, located in Lancashire
- Sizewell, located on the Suffolk coast
- Dungeness, on the Kent coast
- Hinkley Point, located in Somerset
- Wylfa, on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales
Nuclear power plants are extremely expensive to build.
A large-scale plant like Hinkley’s, named Hinkley C, could cost £23 billion.
Much smaller Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are estimated to cost around £2 billion – they operate in the same way as conventional nuclear reactors but on a smaller scale and generate far less energy.
Where are the new ones built?
In June 2011, eight sites across Britain were chosen as locations for new nuclear power stations.
- Bradwell, Essex
- Hartlepool, County Durham
- Heysham, Lancashire
- Hinkley Point, Somerset
- Oldbury, South Gloucestershire
- Sellafield, Cumbria
- Sizewell, Suffolk
- Wylfa, Anglesey
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng recently suggested the UK could have six or seven new nuclear power stations by 2050.
The government has backed the construction of Hinkley C in Somerset, which will be Britain’s biggest nuclear power station.
EDF Energy is building two EPR nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
There are also proposals for a nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, known as Sizewell C.
EDF Energy plans to build two more EPR units at Sizewell, Suffolk.
Wylfa, a decommissioned nuclear power station on the island of Anglesey in North Wales, is one of half a dozen sites already being considered for new power stations.
In February 2021, it was reported that the Welsh Government was considering acquiring the Wylfa Newydd site and its staff until a developer for the project was found.
Besides large nuclear power plants, the government also supports small modular reactors (SMRs).
Are they safe?
Nuclear power plants are subject to strict international safety standards.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, part of the United Nations, says nuclear power plants are among “the safest and most secure facilities in the world”.
In February, the nuclear power plant in Ukraine sparked widespread concern after it was hit by shelling during the Russian invasion.
There have also been high-profile accidents, where large amounts of radioactive material were released into the environment, such as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion in 1986.
In Japan, in 2011, a tsunami caused by a huge earthquake flooded the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Under normal conditions, the production of nuclear energy produces hazardous radioactive waste.
This must be managed and stored safely for hundreds of years.
However, a House of Lords document from October 2021 said the issue of nuclear waste remained “unresolved in the UK”.
It is currently stored in temporary facilities which are not designed for the final storage of so-called “high-level” radioactive waste.
The government’s preferred solution is “geological disposal” – placing the waste deep in a rock formation that would prevent radioactivity from escaping.
However, no community has agreed to host such a facility.
How much nuclear energy does the UK use?
In 2020, 16% of the UK’s electricity came from nuclear power stations, according to the UK energy brief 2021 published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
However, nearly half of current nuclear power plant capacity is due to be retired by 2025.
The Prime Minister has previously indicated that he wants nuclear power to produce 25% of the UK’s energy by 2050.
Although a source told the BBC that the Treasury, which is in charge of public spending, had raised concerns about the cost of the operation.
Last week, The Express also reported that Mr Johnson had yet to convince Chancellor Rishi Sunak to agree to the financial side of the ambitious nuclear project.
Mr Sunak had openly resisted the idea of a “nuclear power rush”, according to the report.
It comes after Mr Sunak previously denied claims he would block the nuclear strategy during a committee hearing on Monday March 28.
The Chancellor said: “I’m certainly not blocking anything, the Prime Minister is continuing to work out the details of this.
“Given its importance, I think it’s important that we get it right… and that is being worked out at pace between all the ministers involved.”