8 new nuclear power station sites approved by UK government

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In a political compromise between the two coalition parties, Chris Huhne, Energy Secretary, has approved plans for eight new nuclear power stations to be built in England and Wales by 2025. The sites for the power stations have been restricted to England and Wales only as the Scottish government has stated that it is opposed to new nuclear expansion. The move has been seen by Lib Dem critics as a u-turn on nuclear policy, as Chris Huhne was previously against nuclear expansion due to radioactive waste disposal issues.

The new locations are (from north to south): Hartlepool; Sellafield, Cumbria; Heysham, Lancashire; Wylfa, Isle of Anglesey; Sizewell, Suffolk; Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex; Oldbury, Gloucestershire and Hinkley Point in Somerset.

The coalition also announced that it was dropping plans for a large tidal energy scheme across the Severn estuary due to the government’s refusal to publicly finance the £21bn project and expecting to find private investment ‘challenging’.

Environmental analysts have said that the nuclear site projects may still not go ahead as they are still subject to planning permission and Chris Huhne has pledged that there will be no public subsidies. However, it is expected that there will be upcoming debates on the definition of what a ‘public subsidy’ actually is.

The nuclear debate is a political hot potato within the coalition as Conservative members are in favour of a new generation of nuclear plants, whilst the Lib Dems have traditionally opposed such a view.

Huhne said: “I’m fed up with the stand-off between advocates of renewables and of nuclear energy which means we have neither. We urgently need investment in new and diverse energy sources to power the UK. We’ll need renewables, new nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage and the cables to hook them all up to the [National] Grid as a large slice of our current generating capacity shuts down.”

In a revised draft national policy statement on energy published by the coalition today, it was shown that by 2025, half of the new energy capacity in the UK is expected to come from renewable sources such as wind.

In a related event, Huhne yesterday won £1bn in funding for carbon capture technology; a system that can cut CO2 emissions by up to 90%. This suggests that despite the Lib Dem MP being compelled to do an about-face on nuclear energy policy, he might still view alternative, renewable energy sources as the principal way forward in averting the predicted energy crisis the UK faces in the middle of the next decade, when current UK power stations are expected to reach the end of their lives. It is also a supporting move for the 2008 UK Climate Change Act, that sets a legally binding target for reducing UK CO2 emissions by at least 26% by 2020.

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3rd year biologist at the University of Southampton. Likes science, film, and discovering new ways to make one of my housemates lose his deposit.

Discussion5 Comments

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    I dont like wind power, wind is not a good source of energy (inland im talking). It requires being at the highest points of the country, which are all nature reserves/ national parks currently, so planning permission and digging costs would be huge.

    What is more, turbines require at least a wind speed of 8m/s to work unassisted and be fully efficient. There is also a cap of 12 m/s where wind becomes too strong for the turbines to work, so they have to be switched off. This is generally rare in the UK, except at the peaks mentioned above. Germany has 23000 wind turbines, which generates 7.?% of total electricity output, which puts into to context their worth anyway.

    As much as people may have a phobia about nuclear (although they produce near 0 sulphur and near 0 carbon emissions), I would much rather have that than rely on wind

    Henry Taylor
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    Whilst of course there are disadvantages to wind power (as there are with any system), I think the disadvantages of nuclear far outweigh these.

    Technically you are correct in that nuclear energy production produces little to no CO2 emissions, but only in reference to the nuclear reactions directly. There is a significant CO2 output from the nuclear sector that stems from the drilling and mining of uranium, its subsequent milling, refinement, and the manufacturing process that converts it to a usable fuel. Construction of nuclear plants is always at a high cost and obviously contributes to CO2 emissions. They also have a 40-50 year life cycle (unlike wind) so this cost is a relatively regular expenditure. As for sustainability and the costs to the environment? Any process that produces waste products that take 10,000 years to degrade, have to be carefully monitored, and are at risk of spontaneous combustion, doesn’t strike me as leaving a kind mark on the environment. Despite recent safety improvements to nuclear plant regulations, they are still at risk of meltdowns. Accidents do happen. They are susceptible to terrorist attacks, which could be devastating. Nuclear plants can also be used to make plutonium, for increasing nuclear weapon proliferation. Uranium is also a finite resource and is currently running out. The costs (and CO2 emissions) of mining for deeper or lower quality uranium will also soon rise.

    I also think that 7% of Germany’s electricity capacity from wind alone is actually pretty impressive.

    Sasha Watson
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    There are always faults with all methods of energy production, and there are always costs as they are man made constructions used to convert energy types into electricity. Nuclear I know is a bit costly, but I was pointing out that wind actually has higher costs than most people imagine. Heres another – the cost of upgrading the National Grid so that it can actually support renewable energy properly – £35bn. Its much of a muchness really.

    Re waste, they are trying to develop methods to re-use waste to make more energy. There is a basic method, but the reason countries are storing it, more than to just protect the environment (they could, and do, just put it back where they got it from which isnt the worst solution, but I do take your mining point) is that they believe it is re-usable – if not now, but in the future.

    Re terrorism, they’re not as vulnerable as people think; they’re built with meters thick concrete and all sorts of shelter protections, as well as multiple layers of guards and security. What’s more, as they all connect to the grid, you have back up generators, and it would require a serious mass attack on an energy grid to actually bring a country to its knees.

    Re nuclear bombs – there are different levels of nuclear stations, i.e. the % strength of plutonium they can develop from uranium. To run a nuclear power station at a top level, you only need a power station that purifies uranium to a level of 18% – handily enough, there are nuclear power stations that do this as near enough their top limit of capability, so are perfectly fine. The problem comes in the next level of fission %, as those nuclear power stations can create anything from 19% to 80% strength – which are the ones Iran are building and getting all sorts of hell for it.

    7% is impressive, but they are miles and streets ahead of anyone else, and personally I would prefer a system that is guaranteed to pool 80% of a countries needs, every time, day or night. For now. Obviously we must look to renewables, but not yet.

    Tom Glen
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    First of all, nice little article and discussion. It is always good to see people interested and debating this. I just had a couple of issues with some things that have been said here.

    Re Nuclear waste: As usual there is a way to deal with waste, but it is not economic to do it. By bombarding the material with you neutrons you can ‘transmutate’ the material to another. In this way you can turn it into a material with a very short half-life or even none at all. However this is hugely expensive, as it involves high energy neutrons and therefore a particle accelerator. It is cheaper and easier to surround it in concrete/steel/glass and dump it in the ground.

    Re terrorism: I’d rather not have a plane crash into a nuclear power station. Fire => plume and fallout. Might be unlikely, but it’s even less likely without nuclear power stations.

    Re Nuclear Weapons & Uranium: You don’t need Plutonium to make a nuke. Uranium 235 is what is needed. There is plenty of Uranium, it is found in rocks and water. However the % of U235 is low, ~0.7%. Enrichment is needed to make Uranium dug out of the ground fissile. You don’t need a power station to enrich Uranium, but what Sasha says about the ‘strength’ is more or less correct.

    “Construction of nuclear plants is always at a high cost and obviously contributes to CO2 emissions. They also have a 40-50 year life cycle (unlike wind) so this cost is a relatively regular expenditure.”
    These are silly arguments as they are also applicable to wind turbines/farms, so without doing the calculations it’s pointless. Manufacture of anything will come with ££ costs and CO2 costs (CO2 – until the energy supply is cleaned up).

    Re Wind Speeds: The figures I have read say that they start operating at about 5m/s, reach max power output at 15m/s and have to be turned off at 25m/s, which seem a bit more reasonable. 12m/s = 27mph, which seems a bit slow for something engineered to extract energy from the wind.

    Re 7%: Germany is good, but not the best. The 2008 figures show Germany 6.6%, Portugal 11.3%, Denmark 19.1%. Also check out the Danish Island of Samsø. 100% electricity from wind, 75% heat from solar and biomass. Yes they have a much smaller pop. density, and previously they were importing oil and coal from the mainland so they probably had an economic incentive, but it does show what can be done.

    I think that you are being a bit harsh on Wind. My opinion is that we need a massive investment in renewables, but also nuclear and carbon capture and storage, however much I am uncomfortable with the latter two. In the long run we need to move entirely to renewables. There are other sectors where massive amounts of money are spent which would be better off on energy, but that is another matter. I can’t help but feel these 8 new plants are to replace the 6 that are soon to be closed.

    Henry C Taylor
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    Tom, thanks for your comments. I agree with you – it’s great to see some debate and discussion on this topic.

    My comment on the life cycles of wind farms vs power stations was referring to the fact that the decommissioning of a nuclear power station is at huge expense, and is much more complicated than the decommissioning of a wind farm. The removal costs of wind farms are often covered by the scrap value of the turbines themselves. You can’t say the same for the decommissioning of nuclear power plants. I would presume that this high expense of tearing them down coupled with the high expense of putting them up would be greater than the total renewal costs for wind farms.

    Samsø is a great example of what can be done on a small scale. There are only 11 turbines producing over 100% of the required capacity for over 4,000 people. We need ventures like this in the UK in areas where wind and other renewables would make a difference to small communities. A ground-up approach like this would only benefit the effectiveness of continued national endeavours. Researchers from Harvard University have even shown that China could meet all of its electricity demands from wind by 2030 – wind shouldn’t be underestimated as much as it is: http://ecogeek.org/wind-power/2948-china-could-replace-coal-with-wind

    Many people also still get confused between efficiency and intermittency. The efficiency of turbines is an irrelevant concept – they are extremely efficient seeing as their fuel is free. What’s important is improving the intermittency (which is what you and Sasha have referred to) so that the price of electricity generation can be reduced. Although there are fluctuations in intermittency as the turbines usually only operate for about 1/4 of the 24 hour maximum per day, these fluctuations match the normal energy demands of the consumers. It’s possible to have up to 10% of the UK’s energy needs met by wind. Intermittency would only become a problem if wind was needed to provide more than this 10%.

    Obviously we need to look towards a combined system where nuclear can play an important role. There are many advantages to nuclear production and it’s a fantastic system, but there are some serious disadvantages that make me think we should be looking towards supplementing our energy production methods with cleaner, more sustainable methods. We also need to focus on using less energy in general. And yes, both of these need addressing in the short run.

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