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Sun, 29 November 2020

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Nuclear power’s new opportunity: Sizewell C offers cost reduction, job creation and carbon savings

Nuclear power’s new opportunity: Sizewell C offers cost reduction, job creation and carbon savings

Sizewell B was meant to be the first of a UK series, with follow-on projects of the same reactor (or twins of the reactor) at Sizewell C, Hinkley Point C, Wylfa and two other sites | Credit: EDF

Julia Pyke, Finance and Economic Regulation Director, Sizewell C | EDF

4 min read Partner content

A fleet of replica power stations after Sizewell B would have brought huge benefits for the environment. The UK should not miss the opportunity for cost reductions, job creation and carbon savings that Sizewell C offers.

In the 25 years since Sizewell B started generating electricity, it has prevented at least 75 million tonnes of carbon from being pumped into the atmosphere.

That’s how much would have been emitted if gas had been used instead of Sizewell’s clean nuclear power.

When Sizewell B was built, plans were in place for another power station, Sizewell C, to sit alongside it, this time with two of the reactors built at Sizewell B.

If the Government at the time had followed through with its plans, there would have been a huge environmental benefit:  the low-carbon power provided by a Sizewell C follow-on to Sizewell B would have reduced the UK’s carbon emissions throughout the 2000s, leading to a total reduction of a further 120 million tonnes – that’s about the same as taking all of today’s traffic off the entire road network for a year.

At one point, the UK’s plans were even more ambitious.  

Sizewell B was meant to be the first of a UK series, with follow-on projects of the same reactor (or twins of the reactor) at Sizewell C, Hinkley Point C, Wylfa and two other sites.

This strategy was based on being able to reduce construction cost and risk by building a family of replica plants.

A series effect would be created by repeating an established design and safety case, and by using the experience and lessons learned during the construction of the first plant.

If all had been built, the savings in carbon emissions to date would have been around 300 million tonnes – around three quarters of the UK’s entire (economy wide) carbon footprint last year – and with very low use of land.

The proposal for a series of new nuclear power stations using the PWR (Pressurised Water Reactor) design from Sizewell B were undone following privatisation of the UK electricity industry in 1990.

Sizewell B became the last nuclear power station to start operation in the UK.  

Abandoning the original programme positively harmed the UK nuclear supply chain with foregone job opportunities in the UK and foregone opportunities to build on the UK experience to export services internationally.

The Government wanted new energy providers to enter the newly liberalised market.

With little focus on greenhouse gas emissions and a carbon tax that didn’t fully reflect the damage done by fossil fuels, the UK embarked on the famous “dash for gas”.

The construction of multiple gas plants helped to build and sustain our North Sea oil and gas industry and provided the UK with years of cheap (albeit polluting) energy.

It also meant the UK became oversupplied with baseload generators, weakening the commercial case for building a family of low carbon PWR nuclear power stations as follow-on projects to Sizewell B.

This is a great shame. Subsequent projects would have been built more quickly and less expensively than Sizewell B.

Abandoning the original programme positively harmed the UK nuclear supply chain with foregone job opportunities in the UK and foregone opportunities to build on the UK experience to export services internationally.

If a fleet of PWRs had been built as planned, they would still have 40-50 more years of operation ahead of them. They would have saved another 700 million tonnes of carbon compared to generation by gas. That’s equivalent to more than a year and a half’s worth of the UK’s current total emissions.

The power stations would still be operating in 2050 and they would have helped the UK meet its Net Zero target.

Not only would we be benefiting from the carbon saving from these power stations to date, but we would have more certainty about our energy future today and a better chance of meeting Net Zero in 2050.

History can now be put right. Because the Government gave the go ahead to Hinkley Point C, the UK has another chance to build Sizewell C as a follow-on project, with the associated construction cost benefits and opportunities for the UK supply chain.

The need to stop burning fossil fuels is even more acute and now enshrined in legislation as the UK transitions to Net Zero.

This time, the UK should not miss the opportunity for cost reductions, job creation and carbon savings that Sizewell C offers.

 

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