Is Brexit killing the UK nuclear industry or does it just have a bad case of wind?

Wyfla Station Plans

Hitachi just withdrew plans to build a new nuclear power station in Anglesey, Wales. This comes hot on the heels of the news that Toshiba pulled out of building a power plant in Cumbria last November. To lose one nuke could be seen as unlucky, to lose two in quick succession may indicate a deeper problem. Could Brexit be the culprit?

Houston, we have a problem!

The UK’s seven nukes currently supply about 20% of our energy. There is a big problem coming though as 6 of our nuclear stations are set to close by the 2030’s. What’s going to replace them? The UK government obviously thought it would simply be a case of building replacement Nukes, so why is this proving so difficult?

Is Brexit impacting nuclear?

There is an argument that, the uncertainty created by Brexit is making the building of nukes harder. It might be that Brexit uncertainty makes the UK’s negotiating position weaker though currency risks and the Governments position is possibly weakened further by an apparent desperation to get almost any major project approved.I wonder, does the UKs decision to leave Euratom have anything to do with it? The government stated in July that the UK plans to quit the nuclear cooperation treaty, if there is a “no deal” Brexit. Euratom encourages and furthers research into nuclear power as well as provides universal safety standards. No one will win if this is the case: the nuclear industry will be less competitive and safety regulations will not be as effective. Withdrawal from the contract may also increase prices, as we are reliant on other EU countries’ goods and services for our nukes.

How can we decarbonise UK energy without nukes?

Without nukes how can we continue to decarbonise UK energy? Could wind be the answer? Wind energy keeps falling in price, in fact it’s never been cheaper. These price drops are mainly due to advances in technology, something often referred to as the “experience curve”. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than offshore wind, where according to The Guardian, in 2017 two offshore windfarms won contracts to supply energy at around half of the price similar farms received in 2015, a 50% price drop in 2 years! What’s more these price reductions are expected to continue. These price drops mean that offshore wind is now 38% cheaper than nuclear power. 

So, can wind replace Nukes?

So can we simply build offshore wind farms to replace the Nukes? Perhaps, but Nukes have a special trick up their sleeve, their energy is dispatchable (in theory anyway). This means they can be switched on and off at will, they don’t rely on windy days to generate energy. 

Renewable energy is not always viewed as the most reliable energy source. What if there are a lot of calm days? This could cause an energy deficit. Today technologies are emerging such as electrical and heat batteries that could potentially store significant amounts of energy. Unfortunately like all new technology they are still very expensive, but as we all know, new technology eventually becomes cheaper (remember the Experience curve?). So maybe one day wind and batteries could replace nukes, what do you think?


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