Momentum for new Generation III nuclear power reactors to fill a looming supply gap in the UK is being lost, partly because the Brexit process is draining policy-making resources from other sectors, a new report says.
The International Energy Agency report, published yesterday, says that nuclear energy, with the large size of its installations, the need for special safeguards, and the “difficult-to-quantify benefits”, is likely to be more affected by the Brexit process than other energy carriers.
The report warns of a “capacity crunch” around 2025 that will pose the question of possible lifetime extensions for existing plants. Nuclear operator EDF Energy has indicated it does not plan to seek lengthy extensions for its advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) as a general policy, although it may seek extensions for a year or two for individual AGRs.
Lifetime extensions for at least 20 more years of operations are, however, likely to be sought for the pressurised water reactor at Sizewell B.
Ultimately, says the report, the “overall dynamics” of the UK nuclear sector will depend on continuing and expanding nuclear new build. The Hinkley Point C nuclear station, consisting of two EPR units, is “a sizeable step”, but will not be sufficient on its own to carry the momentum of UK nuclear development forward.
The report says at least one additional project needs to be agreed in the coming two years to maintain momentum. “Otherwise, the creation of an internationally competitive UK supply chain for nuclear new build will be difficult to sustain in an industry that is subject to very strong increasing returns to scale at all levels.”
The current share of nuclear power in the energy mix is far from being assured, the report says. The UK has 15 commercial nuclear reactors at eight different sites with a total capacity of 8.9 GW. Of these, 14 are AGRs, of which eight with a combined capacity of 4.2 GW are expected to be shut down in 2023 and 2024.
The other six are expected to be shut down by 2030. Only the PWR at Sizewell B is expected to run to at least until 2035, when it will have reached a 40-year lifetime.