UK nuclear phaseout would be costly mistake, says think tank

28 September 2018

Electricity generating costs would rise by 15% and carbon emissions from the power sector would more than triple by 2030 if the UK were to abandon nuclear energy in favour of a mix of wind and gas, according to the New Nuclear Watch Institute (NNWI).

In the foreword to its new report, NNWI chairman Tim Yeo says: "Some campaigners claim that by mid-century Britain, and indeed other countries, will be able to meet all its energy needs from renewables. Pointing to delays and cost overruns experienced recently in the construction of some new nuclear plants they argue that, despite its impeccable credentials as a reliable supplier of low-carbon baseload electricity, nuclear power should be phased out along with coal."

The transition fuel narrative, NNWI says, is the claim that natural gas is capable of reducing coal-based emissions, acting as a bridge from the present to a renewable-dependent future, when advances in renewable and storage technology have become reliable and, thus, the sole sources of energy.

The NNWI report - titled The False Economy of Abandoning Nuclear Power - considers both the environmental impact and the financial costs of phasing out nuclear by 2030 and relying instead on a combination of extra renewables and gas.

The report uses two scenarios. The first is where a total phaseout of nuclear power is assumed, consisting of a cancellation of new-build projects - including Hinkley Point C - and an accelerated decommissioning of existing plants. This scenario involves greater use of wind backed up by gas. Under the second scenario, it is assumed that nuclear power is not phased out and capacity is determined "endogenously according to the least-cost optimisation procedure". This sees less wind and back-up by nuclear as well as by gas.

According to the report, such a phase out of nuclear would increase generating costs from GBP82 (USD107) per MWh to GBP95/MWh at an annual incremental system cost of GBP3.2 billion. It would also reduce the share of low-carbon generation in total generation in 2030 from 87% to 48%. This would increase the carbon intensity of the power sector from 51gCO2/KWh to 186gCO2/KWh.

The publication concludes, "This paper demonstrates that much of the perceived wisdom surrounding the energy transition deserves closer examination, founded, as much of it is, on assertions that do not stand up to analytical rigour. The subject of nuclear power and its role in the UK is hotly contended but if the UK is to maintain the reliability of its power generation, confront rising generation costs head-on, and achieve the required decarbonisation of its energy sector, nuclear power must feature strongly in its ambitions."

"These conclusions are consistent with the experience of Germany after its decision several years ago to phase out nuclear," Yeo said. "They emphasise the folly of following the German example and the need for choices about the energy mix in all countries to be made on the basis of objective analysis."

He added, "The report demonstrates the detrimental impact of continued gas use on both the economy and the environment. The report also shows that continuing to use nuclear power lowers costs and reduces the carbon intensity of the power sector. Excluding nuclear is not only unjustified, it has actively harmful consequences, both economic and environmental. The NNWI believes that energy policy should always be evidence-based and that all options must be available. These options include both gas and renewable energy and the world simply cannot afford prejudice against nuclear energy to prevent its continued use as an essential component in the response to climate change."

The UK has 15 power reactors with a combined capacity of 8883 MWe which generate about 21% of the country's electricity. However, almost half of this capacity is due to be retired by 2025. The first of some 19 GWe of new-generation plants - Hinkley Point C - is expected to be on line around 2025. The government aims to have 16 GWe of new nuclear capacity operating by 2030.

NNWI is an industry supported think-tank, focused on the international development of nuclear energy as a means for governments to safeguard their long-term sustainable energy needs.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News