UK Nuclear Power

Lena Tarhuni
November 9, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

Background on UK Nuclear Power

Fig. 1: Fig. 1: Image of Old Hinkley Point B Reactor (Courtesy of R. Somes. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the UK, the amount of electricity that is generated through nuclear means has decreased significantly. Currently, there are 15 reactors in the nation that are able to produce 21% of electricity compared to 25% in the 1990s. While a 4% difference seems rather small, another comparison to make is to the relative proportions of other energy sources. For example, coal is used for approximately 9% of consumption and gas is used for approximately 45%. [1] These percentages combined indicate the slow growth of newer, more developed, and clean energy sources. [2]

There are several factors that have influenced the lack of nuclear energy development. The drop in nuclear electricity derives from a shortage of functional reactors. [2] Many of the reactors that were developed in the 90s are burning out and are not at par with what is necessary to continue providing in a rapidly developing world. The deteriorating Hinkley Point B reactor is shown in Fig. 1. Further, rather than having replaced these failing reactors, the focus of the country was on eliminating CO2 emissions in alternate ways. Therefore, the focus on quality of electricity surpassed that of supply and demand. This is evident in the UK having 25% of their electricity produced through renewables. [2]

Current Developments

The UK aims to have 16 out of 19 GWe new generation plants functional by 2030. The new nuclear push began in 2006 as a means to make Britain less reliant on imported energy. [2] However, the high costs of nuclear development have resulted in delays in the UK's nuclear plan. [3]

For example, the British government allowed for nuclear power plant construction of Hinkley Point C that will cost 23 billion pounds. This power plant has brought up a significant amount of controversy due to its funding by the French and Chinese governments. However, the UK's decision to allow this type of foreign intervention represents the relaunch of nuclear in Europe. [4] While there are significant hesitancies towards foreign involvement and security, this re-emergence of nuclear power is indicative of its needed development. Further, Hinkley Point is designed very intricately and will have substantial effects on power usage. [5] It will also be able to provide for 7% of power needs for a total of 60 years when all other nuclear power stations are shutdown or nonfunctional. [3]

Again, the main goal is to create several nuclear energy reactors, not just a singular reactor. There are plans for full-scale reactors in eight locations in the Nuclear National Policy Statement. These locations, other than Hinkley, include Point, Oldbury, Sellafield, Sizewell, Wylfa Bradwell, Braystones, Hartlepool, Heysham, and Kirksanton. Additionally there are plans for the development of small reactors that would be low cost and also result in low carbon energy. [2]

The types of reactors that are currently under assessment include the UK EPR (developed by Areva and the EDF), AP1000 (developed by Westinghouse), ESBWR (developed by GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy), and ACR 1000 (developed by AECL). [2]

Challenges in Nuclear Development

While the UK has started construction on more nuclear reactors and has put in place plans for future development, there remain weaknesses in dealing with power supply in the next 10 years. Linking back to Britain's goal for CO2 emission reduction and a potential electricity gap in 2020, reactors like Hinkley will not be produced in time. [4] Therefore, while investing in nuclear development via foreign sources, the UK will also need to determine how to sustain their more short-term electricity needs.

© Lena Tarhuni. 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] "UK Energy Statistics, 2016 and Q4 2016," UK National Statistics, 30 Mar 17.

[2] "The Future of Nuclear Energy in the UK," University of Birmingham, July 2012.

[3] J. Moylan, "Hinkley Point: What Is It and Why Is It Important?," BBC News, 15 Sep 16.

[4] H. Ellyatt, "UK Government Gives Go-ahead to $23 Billion Nuclear Power Station," CNBC, 15 Sep 16.

[5] S. Jack, "Hinkley Point: UK Approves Nuclear Plant Deal" BBC News, 15 Sep 16.