Nuclear vs Renewable Energy in the UK

Jaime Deverall
May 13, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Renewable Energy Sources

Fig. 1:Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

According to Vaughan, nearly one third of the UK's electricity between April and June 2017 was generated from renewable sources. [1] In fact, the UK has more offshore wind power capacity than any other country in the world. [1] On a particular day in October 2017, Europe generated a new record of 263 gigawatt hours of power from offshore turbines, 95GWh of which came from the UK. [1] The UK also generates power from solar and biomass. In a different article by Vaughan, the National Grid said that the thousands of photovoltaic panels on rooftops across the UK generated 8.7GW, or 24.3% of electricity demand on a day in May 2017. [2] Furthermore, in April 2017, Britain achieved its first-ever full day without coal since the industrial revolution and this achievement is in part thanks to solar. [2] Finally, the UK also produces energy through biomass. While it is hotly debated whether biomass is actually a renewable energy source, the UK's largest power station, Drax, in North Yorkshire has already converted three of its six units from coal to biomass. [1] Furthermore, another old coal power plant at Lynemouth in Northumberland is set to reopen as a biomass power station. [1]

Nuclear Energy

Fig. 1 shows the Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station in Somerset in the UK. Hinkley Point C does well on reliability and low carbon, however the extent to which it costs no longer renders it competitive with wind farms. [3] In a capacity auction in September 2017, two big offshore wind farms came in at GBP 57.50 per megawatt hour and a third at GBP 74.75. [3] When compared with Hinkley's GBP 92.50, the price differential becomes disturbingly apparent. [3] The reasons for this price discrepancy include bigger, more efficient turbines and decreased installation costs, whereas the price of nuclear energy has actually been increasing due to tighter safety regulations. [3] Tarhuni expands in detail upon the controversies of Hinkley Point C in her report on current developments in UK Nuclear Power. [6] Further pros and cons are explored in Wilczynski's report on Hinkley Point Power. [7] Despite all the pessimism surrounding Hinkley Point C, recently, EDF Energy has claimed that a second nuclear power station could be built in Britain for 20% the cost of the GBP 20 billion it cost to construct Hinkley Point C. [4] EDF Energy, a French state-owned company, claims that this price reduction would primarily stem from the replication of construction techniques, exploiting existing grid connections and the exploration of new finance models. [4] However, there is an alternative to large, expensive nuclear reactors; mini-nuclear power stations are small modular reactors that provide about a tenth of the power of a conventional large nuclear power station but are cheaper and quicker to construct. [5] However, the earliest a small modular reactor is thought to be ready for deployment in the UK is around 2030, which is quite far into the future. [5]


In conclusion, off-shore wind farming seems to be the most promising method for energy generation for the UK going forward. However, the UK government should still consider using nuclear energy as a base source of energy despite it being more expensive than renewable alternatives. In addition, the UK government should invest in small modular reactors, which could potentially provide nuclear energy for a lot cheaper than regular nuclear reactors.

© Jaime Deverall. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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] A. Vaughan, "How Green is Britain's Record on Renewable Energy Supply?," The Guardian, 7 Oct 17.

[2] A. Vaughan, "Solar Power Breaks UK Records Thanks to Sunny Weather," The Guardian, 26 May 17.

[3] N. Pratley, "Hinkley Nuclear Power Is Being Priced Out by Renewables", The Guardian, 11 Sep 17.

[4] A. Vaughan, "EDF Could Build Second Nuclear Plant 'For 20% Less Than Hinkley Point'", The Guardian, 17 Jan 18.

[5] A. Vaughan, "UK Government to Release Funding For Mini Nuclear Power Stations", The Guardian, 3 Dec 17.

[6] L. Tarhuni, "UK Nuclear Power", Physics 241 Stanford University, Winter 2017.

[7] D. Wilczynski, "Hinkley Point Power", Physics 241 Stanford University, Winter16.