Post on 18 May 2022

The ever-thwarted ambition to revive nuclear power in the UK

Nuclear power is “coming back, even stronger”(Tony Blair, 2005).“We are relaunching our nuclear industry” (David Cameron, 2013). “We want to build one reactor a year” (Boris Johnson, 2 May). One British Prime Minister after another promises to revive the nuclear industry. The reality on the ground, however, does not change much: the current fleet is ageing, and only one plant, at Hinkley, is under construction.

The UK has always had these hesitations about nuclear power. He built the world’s first civilian power plant in 1956 and then hardly continued the effort. Today, its power plants, which were mostly installed in the 1970s and 1980s, and then bought by EDF in 2008, produce around 16% of the country’s electricity.

But their age is becoming a real problem. In 2017, they produced 64 TWh. Since then, production has been declining every year, reaching 46 TWh in 2021 as a result of longer than expected maintenance work. By 2030, all but one of the existing plants will have closed.

A slow moving Public Access Facility…

Successive governments are aware of the problem, but have been slow to act. After lengthy negotiations, EDF started construction of an Public Access Facility at Hinkley in the west of England in 2016. With two reactors with a total capacity of 3.2 gigawatts, it is a behemoth. But, as elsewhere in the world, the EPR is struggling to take shape. The Covid-19 pandemic caused delays, pushing the completion date from 2025 to 2026. Several additional costs have been announced, with the official bill now at £22-23 billion, or €26 billion (in 2008, when EDF bought British Energy, the price considered was around £10 billion).

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