UK Nuclear – A Perfect Storm
– Blog article by Steve Armitage, Senior Principle Systems Engineer at Optima Systems Consultancy
On 30th June the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nuclear Energy published its report “Net Zero Needs Nuclear: A Roadmap to 2024”. It’s a stark reminder of the position the UK’s nuclear sector finds itself in.
The case for nuclear as a key contributor to the UK meeting its Net Zero obligations has long been made. It has gradually gained traction and the May 21 tie up between the NIA, RenewableUK and Solar Energy UK was further evidence of a wider acknowledgement that nuclear needs to be locked into domestic energy policy and plans, to deliver a 100% decarbonised grid by 2035.
The APPG report highlights the urgency with which we need to act if we are to mitigate the near-term impact of the loss of our Advance Gas-Cooled Reactor (AGR) fleet. Given that the UK’s nuclear stations provide circa 20% of our generating capacity, regardless of whether the sun shines or the wind blows, the shortfall in output from 2031 (more than 50%; see page 2 of the APPG report) has the potential to impact us all.
The APPG has set out a number of next steps and it’s good to see advanced fission technologies (Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)/Advanced Modular Reactors (AMRs)) and Fusion making an appearance, even if they’re some years away from being deployable and have yet to be shown to be commercially viable. Accelerating their delivery will require significant investment and an adjusted approach to regulation, both of which will take time to secure.
The report focusses on the challenges of new build, but let’s not forget the wider decommissioning effort that’ll be required to deal with our AGR legacy. It relies, amongst other things, on development of the UK’s Geological Disposal Facility and significant reforms will be needed if we are to reduce the clean-up burden we leave for future generations.
Then, there’s the UK’s Nuclear Sector Deal (NSD), published in 2018. The APPG report makes reference to the NSD requirement placed on industry to reduce the cost of new build by 30% by 2030, but we also have to reduce the cost (to the taxpayer) of decommissioning by 20% over the same period.
For those of us committed to UK Nuclear, and ready to play our parts to keep the UK at the table of the world’s leading nuclear nations, the above combination of factors looks daunting; some might call it a perfect storm. We can expect COP26 to further reinforce the need for us to get our collective act together. It could be a busy few years ahead.