U.K. lays out plans to quadruple nuclear generation by 2050

January 12, 2024, 12:05PMNuclear News

The United Kingdom released plans yesterday for the biggest expansion of nuclear power in 70 years. Officials outlined Civil Nuclear: Roadmap to 2050 as an opportunity to improve the United Kingdom’s energy independence from foreign sources as it looks to build a new power station and invest in advanced nuclear fuel production.

The goal is to increase nuclear energy generation in Britain by four times—up to 24 gigawatts—to provide for one-quarter of the nation’s electricity needs. The country, during COP28, joined more than 20 other nations in a pledge to triple nuclear energy around the globe by 2050.

“Nuclear is the perfect antidote to the energy challenges facing Britain—it’s green, cheaper in the long term, and will ensure the U.K.’s energy security,” said prime minister Rishi Sunak. “This is the right long-term decision and is the next step in our commitment to nuclear power, which puts us on course to achieve net zero by 2050 in a measured and sustainable way.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago caused a major interruption of energy supplies from the oil and gas sectors across Europe and spurred a cost-of-living crisis in the United Kingdom.

Energy secretary Claire Coutinho said this investment in nuclear would mean the United Kingdom would "never again be held to ransom over energy by tyrants like [Russian president] Vladimir Putin.”

A closer look: Plans call for a possible new nuclear build, exploring a plant as large as Hinkley D in Somerset or Sizewell C in Suffolk, both of which are capable of powering 6 million homes. Construction on the Sizewell plant is set to begin this year, and Hinkley is currently under construction.

The United Kingdom has nine operational nuclear reactors at five sites, but many are near the end of their operating lives. Just this week, however, fleet operator Électricité de France committed to an investment of $1.7 billion to keep all its U.K. plants operating through at least 2026.

Britain plans to build up to eight new reactors by 2050 and invest up to £300 million (about $383 million) to locally produce HALEU, the fuel needed to power advanced reactors that is currently only commercially produced in Russia. This move would make the United Kingdom the first European country to launch a HALEU program.

“We’re making the biggest investment in domestic nuclear energy in 70 years,” Coutinho said. “Our £300 million plan to produce advanced nuclear fuel in the U.K. will supply nuclear plants at home and overseas—further weakening the Kremlin’s grip on global energy markets.”

The U.K. government plans also include two consultations, one on a new approach to siting future nuclear power stations and another on supporting the sector and encouraging private investment to roll out advanced nuclear projects. The proposals will attract investment in the U.K. nuclear sector by empowering developers to find suitable sites rather than focusing on the eight designated by the government. Community engagement will remain critical to any decisions, alongside maintaining robust criteria such as nearby population densities.

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