UK needs 35-40% nuclear, government told

06 August 2009

A report on UK energy security prepared at the request of the UK government has recommended that the country should aim for nuclear to supply some 35-40% of its electricity beyond 2030.

Energy Security: A national challenge in a changing world is a comprehensive report looking at the implications of international energy market development written by former energy minister Malcolm Wicks. It calls for the government to do more to develop indigenous and alternative energy resources, ranging from new nuclear to renewables, and calls for a proactive approach on multiple fronts to maximise future energy security while tackling climate change.

The UK's 19 operating nuclear units provided around 12.5% of the country's electricity in 2008, a share that has been falling over recent years as older units have been retired and total electricity generation has gone up. More units are scheduled for retirement over the next decade, but Wicks feels that nuclear should become an increasingly major element of the generating mix into the middle of this century.


Describing nuclear as a low carbon technology with life-cycle carbon emissions similar to those of wind generated electricity, and at a time when the nation is increasingly reliant on fossil fuel imports, the report questions whether the UK should be more ambitious in its plans for nuclear power. "When national security considerations are added to climate change exigencies I believe the answer is yes," Wicks says.


Electrification means tripling nuclear


Plans for the transition to a lower carbon economy with widespread electrification of transport and heating foresee the potential for UK electricity demand being 50% higher than current levels by 2050. Wicks said that beyond 2030, a 35-40% share

Government misses own targets

The UK government is not on track to meet its own carbon emissions targets and could face having to pay commercial firms to offset its failures under carbon trading schemes due to begin in 2010.

The latest report by the Environmental Audit Committee has found that the proportion of renewable energy used by government departments has fallen over the last year and that the government is not doing enough to reduce energy use in its buildings. "Cutting government energy bills with better insulation, solar panels and new heat and power boilers could save us lots of money in the long run - but ministers have so far lacked the vision to invest for the future," he added.

of UK electricity could be a "sensible aspiration" to enhance energy security and reduce reliance on imports. This implies a need for a UK nuclear power sector about three times bigger than it has ever been in the past.


With this in mind the report also recommends that the government should make a "strong and clear statement on the need for new nuclear power plants" in a National Policy Statement on nuclear power, due to be released for public consultation later this year.


However, the report warns that such ambitious plans would need concerted effort across government departments to achieve the necessary framework for nuclear new build, such as ongoing planning reforms that should allow applications for nuclear power plants to be considered more efficiently and swiftly than under the current system.

Nuclear is not the only sector for which Wicks recommends challenging targets. Increased energy efficiency is seen as crucial in reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and the report calls for a "vigorous attack" on energy inefficiencies to reduce energy demand. Nevertheless, fossil fuels will continue to make a major contribution, and the report calls for the country to use innovative techniques to develop its own coal reserves, work on developing carbon capture and storage technologies, support the development and deployment of alternative transport technologies

Although it recognises increasing the share of renewables in the UK energy mix as critical both for energy security and climate change objectives, the report says that the government's current target of 15% renewable energy use by 2020 is already ambitious, and that it would not be feasible to set higher renewables targets. Beyond 2020, however, the report sees marine energy - both wave and tidal power - potentially making a significant contribution in the longer term.