There are eight operational Nuclear power stations in the UK, with a combined capacity of 9.2GW (Source: National Grid TEC Register 27th August 2020). All the sites are owned by EDF. The Nuclear plants produced 56.2TWh of electricity in 2019, equating to roughly 17% of total production. Nuclear plants tend to run continuously (Baseload – 24/7), a running pattern which at present compliments the intermittent nature of renewable generation. Nuclear plants are viewed as an important part of achieving our Net Zero targets as they do not emit greenhouse gases. There are, however, concerns over the potential long lasting environmental impact left behind by the radioactive materials used in the operation of the power stations.
Many of the current Nuclear power stations in the UK are due to be decommissioned over the next decade, with the planned closure of Hunterston B station recently brought forward to 2021. Hinkley Point B (2023), Heysham 1 (2023) and Hartlepool (2024) will follow soon after. There are plans to build over 8GW of new Nuclear capacity across three sites (EDF will own Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, while it will have a minority stake in Bradwell B where China General Nuclear Power Generation will have majority ownership). Hinckley Point C will be the first to commission. Originally scheduled to start producing energy in 2017, the project has been delayed, with full commissioning of the site now not expected until 2025. The Sizewell C and Bradwell B projects are not guaranteed to go-ahead, as both require government approval.
Hinkley C was awarded a Contracts for Difference (CfD), providing it with a guaranteed price of £92.5MWh for each MW of output it produces for 35 years from its commissioning date. This is in stark contrast to the recent Offshore Wind CfD contracts awarded at £39.65/MWh (see Offshore Wind blog for more details LINK ). The cost of Hinkley C has proved a contentious point, with many questioning whether it is the most cost effective method of securing energy supply over the coming decades. The 2019 output of Nuclear plants (56.2TWh, as above) was a 13.6% reduction from 2018. This was due mainly to a number of lengthy outages across the stations, however, it does pose the question – are we as reliant on Nuclear as we thought? Is a requirement for Baseload running a thing of the past, or can Battery Storage and Demand Side Response (DSR) fill the gaps of renewable generation?