Swift Action Can Secure the Future of New Nuclear Generation in the UK

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On Thursday 17 January 2019, Hitachi announced its suspension of the Wyfla Newydd nuclear project.[1] This followed Toshiba’s decision to wind-down NuGen, their UK nuclear subsidiary, in November 2018.[2] Both Hitachi and Toshiba cited the rising cost of nuclear as a factor in their decision to discontinue work. People are therefore questioning the economic viability of nuclear energy. Against this backdrop nuclear power generation will need to remake its case for a place in the UK’s energy mix.

There are still reasons to believe in the UK’s Civil Nuclear Generation Sector

‘It is a fallacy to think we can provide the UK’s energy with intermittent renewables alone,’ according to Professor Sue Ion.[3] Renewable technology is currently not able to meet UK demand for consistent, year-round energy. Moorside and Wylfa were projected to provide 15 per cent of the UK’s electricity.[4] At present, this quantity of energy cannot be provided by renewables alone. Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Rebecca Long Bailey, states that a failure to recommence the Wylfa project would have a ‘significant negative impact on the UK’s energy security.’[5]

Technological advances may complicate the picture for new nuclear

New technology is likely to significantly alter the UK energy market. The cost of solar and wind energy is predicted to decrease drastically [6] and the UK’s energy system may soon undergo substantial change. The National Infrastructure Commission has recommended enabling the transition to more actively managed local networks. This is because it believes decentralized energy will become a bigger feature of the UK energy supply.[7] Should this happen, the Government may be reluctant to support new large scale nuclear generation. It is important for the nuclear industry to act now before the system changes too significantly.

New nuclear needs to re-establish itself as a core part of the UK’s energy mix to avoid being overtaken by events

Those looking at new nuclear in the UK should take advantage of the Government’s good will towards the technology, and establish themselves quickly before other technologies can replace them in government thinking. Government was willing to consider taking a 1/3rd equity stake in the cancelled Wylfa project, provide all the debt funding for its construction and provide a strike price of £75 per megawatt hour. [8] This illustrates a large degree of positivity that potential project operators can capitalise if they act quickly.

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[1] BBC News, 17 January 2019, Link

[2] BBC News, 8 November 2018, Link

[3] Sue Ion, Guardian, 20 January 2019, Link

[4] Green Tech Media, 22 January 2019, Link

[5] Rebecca Long Bailey MP, Labour Press Release, 11 January 2019, Link

[6] WindPower, 19 June 2018, Link

[7] National Infrastructure Commission, Smart Power, 4 March 2016, pp 68-70, Link

[8] Greg Clark MP, Hansard, 17 January 2019, Col. 1342, Link

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