UK energy minister underscores importance of nuclear power

06 July 2016

Andrea Leadsom, minister of state at the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), has reiterated the important role of nuclear power in the country's current and future electricity mix. In a speech at the Utility Week Energy Summit about the Future of Energy in the UK yesterday, Leadsom said "energy security is non-negotiable, and is our top priority".

The UK has 15 reactors generating about 21% of its electricity but almost half of this capacity is to be retired by 2025. The first of some 19 GWe of new-generation plants is expected to be on line by 2025 and the government aims to have 16 GWe of new nuclear capacity operating by 2030.

"In the electricity sector, security of supply still requires baseload power. We know that the make-up of this baseload cannot go unchanged. Within the next two decades, virtually all of our existing nuclear fleet is due to retire. And within the next ten years, our goal is to phase out entirely the use of unabated coal," Leadsom told the conference. That means at least a third of the country's current electricity generation comes from plants that will need to be replaced, she noted.

"This government will not duck the difficult decisions about investment in our energy infrastructure. We have been clear that we expect to bring on power generation from both new nuclear and new gas plants. That's why we are commissioning the first new nuclear power station in a generation, and working with developers, who have set out proposals to develop 18 GWe of new nuclear power stations at six sites across the UK," she said. The new nuclear supply chain could support 30,000 jobs over the coming years, she added.

Leadsom is competing with Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Michael Gove to become the next Conservative Party leader and British prime minister. Like Gove, Leadsom voted to leave the European Union in the nationwide referendum held on 23 June.

EDF Energy, NuGeneration and Horizon Nuclear Power have all stressed their commitment to the UK's nuclear new build program in spite of the vote in favour of 'Brexit'.

EDF Energy is expected to make a final investment decision in September on its strategy to build Hinkley Point C - the first new nuclear power station built in the UK in almost 20 years. Scheduled to begin operating in 2025, the twin-unit UK EPR plant will provide about 7% of the UK's electricity.

Horizon Nuclear Power has said it will continue to develop its plans to deploy the UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor at two sites - Wylfa Newydd, which is on the Isle of Anglesey, and Oldbury-on-Severn, in South Gloucestershire. Established in 2009 and acquired by Hitachi in November 2012, Horizon aims to provide at least 5.4 GWe of new capacity, expecting the first unit at Wylfa to be operating in the first half of the 2020s.

NuGeneration (NuGen), the UK joint venture between Japan's Toshiba and France's Engie, has also said its Moorside project remains unaffected by the outcome of the EU referendum. NuGen plans to build a nuclear power plant of up to 3.8 GWe gross capacity at the West Cumbria site using AP1000 nuclear reactor technology provided by Westinghouse Electric Company, a group company of Toshiba.

Leadsom said yesterday: "With the people of Britain now having voted to leave the European Union, a change of great national significance is ahead of us." But "there is no change", she added, to the government's commitment to "a clear energy policy framework and a strong, investment-friendly economy - making the UK one of the best places in the world to live and do business."

The government also remains committed to dealing with climate change, she said, noting last week's announcement of its intention to legislate for a 57% reduction in emissions for the Fifth Carbon Budget. This is a further step towards the country's 2050 target of an 80% reduction, she said.

The UK has a "rich history of leadership in energy innovation", Leadsom also told the conference.

"The world's first coal-fired power station was built by Thomas Edison in London, in 1882. The world's first commercial nuclear power station was opened by the Queen in Cumbria in 1956," she said.

"When those plants fired up for the first time, their builders could have little idea of the future scale of the new energy industries they were opening up. But we have benefitted from their pioneering efforts throughout the decades since. Our job now is not to predict the future, but to create the conditions for innovation. That will give us the best chance of ensuring that a system of secure, affordable and clean energy is our lasting legacy."

DECC published Leadsom's speech following the conference yesterday.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News