“The reality is that nuclear capacity will come off before it is replaced, which means carbon emissions will go up or won’t come down.”
[…] Last week, that bold vision lay in tatters as Hitachi pulled down the shutters on Horizon, which it will wind up by the end of March. It has cancelled its application for a development consent order — a formal process needed to secure planning permission — for the £20 billion Wylfa Newydd plant, despite having spent £2 billion exploring every aspect of the project, from the rock strata on the island to the location of Roman ruins.
Hitachi’s defeat follows the collapse of several other nuclear projects and the gradual retreat of companies, first European, then Japanese, from the UK’s nuclear industry. A succession of big players, some backed by governments, has tried to make it work — but, spooked by the huge risks and ambivalence from Westminster, they have concluded it is not worth the trouble and walked away. […]
The consequences will start to become evident over the next few years as ageing reactors are closed down. Those eight power stations, owned jointly by EDF and Centrica, provide about 20 per cent of the country’s electricity, yet they have been repeatedly patched up to extend their lives, and all but one is due to shut over the next decade because their graphite cores are degrading. As one nuclear industry source put it: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. It all decays so glacially slowly. We are about to run out of time to replace this.”
For a government that has made eliminating carbon emissions by 2050 a central policy, those closures are a huge problem. The switch to renewable sources of energy has been one of the great successes of the past decade, their use rising fourfold while that of fossil fuels has more than halved.
Last year, in a run of sunny, windy weather, the UK enjoyed 67 consecutive days of coal-free power generation. But underpinning that low-carbon streak was a substantial slice of nuclear, and when the worst-case scenario arrived in November and wind turbines stopped turning, the country had to revert to gas and coal to keep the lights on.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said the power system was highly vulnerable to price spikes when renewables struggled. He cited the £1,500-a-megawatt hour hit during this month’s cold snap. “We’re nowhere near where we need to get for net-zero or even the 2030 decarbonisation target. It has also meant that at times, prices have gone up massively.”
“The reality is that nuclear capacity will come off before it is replaced, which means carbon emissions will go up or won’t come down. There is a fallacy at the heart of this debate that assumes everything that’s currently available will be available in 2050. It won’t.”