Nuclear plays 'vital' role in UK economy, statistics show

11 April 2016

The UK's Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) has welcomed new official data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which it said shows the "vital contribution nuclear power generation makes to the economy". The statistics, released for the first time and part of the low-carbon and renewable energy data series, show nuclear generation and new build activities contributed £3.5 billion ($5.0 billion) to the economy in 2014, with 15,500 people employed full time.

Last year the ONS launched a new survey collecting data on the Low-Carbon and Renewable Energy (LCRE) economy. The first high-level results were published in December 2015. The ONS said, "in order to produce timely estimates and be responsive to demand for greater detail", this is the second in a series of sector specific articles prior to final results scheduled to be published next month.

In the article providing estimates of activity in the nuclear power sector in 2014, the ONS said that almost a quarter of low-carbon electricity group acquisitions of capital assets were in the nuclear power sector. The sector accounts for a greater proportion of the low-carbon economy in Scotland than in England for both turnover and full-time equivalent employees, it said.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: "The nuclear sector has played an important role in keeping the lights on across the UK for over 50 years. These official statistics highlight the continued economic contribution of existing nuclear power generation operations. Significantly, the statistics do not include the level of employment in decommissioning and nuclear supply chain with the NIA's authoritative jobs map putting the level of employment in the UK at 63,500."

Shadow energy minister in the last Parliament and leading the NIA since February, Greatrex added: "While some commentators pit low-carbon technologies against each other, each has a role to play and must work together if the UK is to replace the ageing generation plant, improve security of supply and reduce our carbon emission in line with legally binding targets. To meet the UK's objective of a secure low-carbon generation mix, new nuclear will need to be part of a broad mix for the future."

According to the ONS, in 2014 low-carbon sources generated 132.2 terawatt hours (TWh), which accounted for 39% of UK electricity generation. Low-carbon energy sources are almost evenly split between nuclear (48.4%) and renewable energy sources (51.6%) such as solar photovoltaic, offshore wind, onshore wind, hydro, landfill gas, and other bioenergy. The nuclear power sector generated 64 TWh of electricity.

The nuclear energy sector includes businesses producing electricity, but also those supporting these activities through consultation, production or installation of infrastructure. This also includes operations and maintenance; however, decommissioning and waste processing activities are excluded as their primary purpose is not within the scope of the LCRE economy.

Of the 15,500 FTEs engaging in nuclear power activity in 2014, 30.3% were working in businesses where nuclear power activities were the businesses' primary activity.

The ONS said: "These businesses generated just 8.9% (£0.3 billion) of nuclear power sector turnover and were primarily involved in engineering and consultancy activities. These results show that businesses where nuclear power was their primary activity have a relatively high proportion of employment compared with the proportion of turnover generated."

Businesses that operated in the nuclear power sector but not as their primary activity employed 69.7% of nuclear power sector FTE workers and generated 91.1% (£3.2 billion) of nuclear power sector turnover. These businesses were predominantly involved in electricity generation but operated in multiple power-generating sectors rather than specialising in nuclear electricity generation, the ONS said.

The majority of employment and turnover for the nuclear sector was in electricity generation by businesses where nuclear power was not their primary activity. This can be contrasted, the ONS said, to the solar photovoltaic sector, where the majority of employment (81.0% of FTE workers) and turnover (51.2%, £1.3 billion) were in businesses where solar activities were their primary activity, most commonly design or installation activities.

The figures also show how the industry is spread across the whole of the UK, with 19% of the sector's turnover and 13% of the workforce, coming from Scotland.

Formerly the Labour MP for the Scottish constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, the NIA's Greatrex, stressed in a recent interview with World Nuclear News that there are a significant number of people employed in the nuclear industry in Scotland.

Noting the recent announcement that the operating period of the Torness nuclear power plant is to be extended, Greatrex said nuclear power will be "part of the mix in Scotland till at least 2030".

"Electricity generation figures for Scotland in the last year show that 75% of it was low-carbon. That was pretty much evenly spread between renewables, including old hydro as well as new and almost all onshore wind and a little bit of solar, and the two generating nuclear power stations," he said. "Whether or not there's any new build in Scotland in the future remains an open question, but it's certainly the case that to help to balance the intermittent low-carbon generation that exists within Scotland, improvements to the grid infrastructure, linking Scotland to England, are as much if not more so about being able to take power south to north when the wind isn't blowing, as it is to be able to take excess renewable generated power north to south when the wind is blowing."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News