UK Nuclear Modernization

Christian Sanders
March 17, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015

History of Nuclear Power in the UK

Fig. 1: Modern-day nuclear power station. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The history of using nuclear power as a source of energy in the United Kingdom contains specific time periods that were critical to influencing the decisions that were taken relating to nuclear power. The first period occurred in the 1940's and specifically spanned the years that ran up to the end of World War II. This period included the Atomic Energy Act 1946, which was the first statutory reference to the nuclear industry in the UK. [1] The 1955 White Paper "A Program of Nuclear Power" attributed the potential use of nuclear power to be contributing 1500 to 200 MW of electricity to the grid and replacing five to six million tons of coal a year by a few hundred tons of uranium. [1] This was obviously a significant difference in efficiency. The buzz around nuclear power was very positive and encouraging at this time, for the reputation of nuclear power had not yet been overshadowed by any awareness of the risks that nuclear power potentially held. Up until this date, all systems were a go and positive for nuclear power. The second time period of significance was during the 1970's. During this time, the popularity of nuclear power began to take a hit in the UK and globally. The time and efficiency of commissioning and then completion of a nuclear power station was poor, making the, "effects of this disillusionment up to a decade to become apparent." [1] Not to forget, there was also a stock market crash. From 1974 to 1975, all 41 reactors ordered after 1973 were subsequently cancelled, and, more than two-thirds of all nuclear plants ordered after January 1970 were eventually cancelled. [1] The cost benefit of these plants were not seen as worthy of continual implementation. Essentially the idea of using nuclear power plants during this time was dying. The third time period occurred in the 1990's and spanned the years following the last nuclear reactor to be built in the UK, and the decision by the decision by the government not to fund any future development of nuclear power for the public purpose. The dangers surrounding these reactors and other negative factors overshadowed the positive hopes for nuclear power that once was. There was a lack of popularity amongst the industry during this time and in the years following, it was apparent that there was a need of new recruits and a conservative effort to get information about the possible usage of nuclear energy and its benefits back into the media and public. The fourth and final period starts in 2004 and ran for several years. During this period, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced plans to return nuclear power to the UK, for reasons that were linked to climate change and energy security. [1] An example of a modern day nuclear power station can be seen in Fig. 1. This is the modern look of the new power stations. Nuclear power is back in the United Kingdom.

Benefits of the Change

There are many benefits to the increased use of nuclear power in the United Kingdom. There are obvious ecological benefits as nuclear power provides a better supply of energy, as this supply is under threat and climate change is causing a sense of urgency to make a change, and it is better for our environment. Nuclear power helps play alongside other low carbon generation options. There are economical benefits as well. At the time of the Prime Minister's announcement, the economic situation was looking more favorable to nuclear than it had in previous years. This was supported by the fact that the UK would be, and did, import more crude oil than it exports, thus becoming vulnerable to global price fluctuations to an extent. [2] This was a positive change in this regard over the past several years. In addition, efficiency and assurance of planning inquiries are run to clearly defined timescales was promised during the time of the Prime Minister's announcement, and have been implemented. [1]


So far the modernization of the source of energy for the UK, changing to nuclear power as a source, has been a positive one. With the potential dangers that nuclear power plants hold, it is always critical to maintain safety precautions when building and putting to use these plants. The UK has done this since committing to this change in 2005. The economic benefits can are there and can be justified by looking at the inconsistent global prices of crude oil, and the UK's decreasing dependence on this crude oil as a source of energy of the past 10 years. Going forward, The UK could set a standard on how to implement and why to change to nuclear power as a source of energy for other countries to follow.

© Christian Sanders. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. Snedder, Nuclear Unclear: An Investigation of British Nuclear Power Policy (Lap Lambert Academic Publishing, 2014).

[2] K. Bickerstaff et al., "Reframing Nuclear Power in the UK Energy Debate: Nuclear Power, Climate Change Mitigation and Radioactive Waste," Public Underst. Sci. 17, 145 (2008).