The Nuclear Option?

Posted On: 
30th July 2019

With the Government legislating for net-zero by 2050, opinion remains divided over the potential role for nuclear energy in creating a low carbon future, writes Alexandra Goodwin.

The Clean Growth Strategy, paved the way for an increase in the UK’s nuclear capacity, says Alexandra Goodwin.
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Nuclear power has been the energy sector’s wedge issue since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Since the splitting of the atom debate has split between those that believe nuclear power will satisfy the world’s ever-growing thirst for energy - while simultaneously bringing down our carbon emissions - and those who worry about the dangers of nuclear waste and reactor meltdowns.

The cost of renewables and smart technologies are rapidly decreasing, with a 30-40% drop in wind turbine prices and an 80% drop in Solar PV module prices over the last decade. However, questions remain over whether they have matured enough to cope with variable energy demand without the assistance of traditional fuel or nuclear sources.

Government Policy

In 2017, the Government’s UK Civil Nuclear Policy, part of the Clean Growth Strategy, paved the way for an increase in the UK’s nuclear capacity. This committed around £280m to the nuclear sector across both industry and research but is yet to translate into significant increases in nuclear output in the UK.

Continued support has been further underlined this week by the outgoing administration’s desperate attempts to secure a Regulated Asset Base model for the sector, in the hope of overcoming negative perceptions and investment barriers to the nuclear variable of a net zero legacy.

Negative Narrative

Those voicing reservations about the deployment of nuclear power have drawn on history to justify their fears, with HBO’s latest binge ‘Chernobyl’ highlighting the potential perils of nuclear energy to a mass audience. Similarly, just eight years ago, a Tsunami caused a nuclear disaster in Japan comparable to the USSR’s in 1986.

Communities are also airing their disquiet about reactors sitting in their back garden. Despite Sellafield being used as a ‘temporary’ location to store nuclear waste for the past seventy years, Cumbrian residents are no longer happy to house it. Though radioactive waste management is no longer a technical issue, it remains a political one. Without solid plans for radioactive disposal, nuclear may fail to make gains in the UK’s energy mix, and investors will prove hard to come by.

Red flags for Investors

Indeed, recent failures of half the UK’s newly commissioned plants exemplify, and will likely exacerbate, the arduous task of attracting investment for nuclear plants. Despite Government commitments, Hitachi scrapped their £16bn nuclear power station in Wales earlier this year, as the Japanese giant was unable to agree a deal with the UK due to growing public fears diverting investors. Hitachi’s also discontinued plans for….

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