UK nuclear: govt gives green light

Nuclear is back on the agenda as the government announced today its intention to build new nuclear power stations.

Nineteen nuclear power stations produce about 20% of the UK’s electricity, but ministers say a decision is necessary now as many nuclear and coal-fired power stations are due to close within 20 years. The plans announced today say that the new stations will be built on existing station sites. This will make planning problems less likely.

With north sea gas supplies running low energy security has become a concern. Also with climate change bringing tough CO2 emissions reduction targets into play, nuclear is now being seen by some as a solution rather than a problem.

Greenpeace however continues to highlight the very real waste problem and the high cost of a nuclear building programme. There is talk of a legal challenge being mounted.

Construction of Finland’s new nuclear power station has fallen further behind schedule, with the operator TVO warning in December that the additional delay would add to the project’s costs. The news will fuel the debate about the economics of nuclear power.

How the government is helping the nuclear industry

Ministers are seeking to give assurances to the nuclear industry about a new streamlined planning system and the likely future price of carbon, one of the key factors in the future economics of nuclear power. The higher the price of carbon, the more economic electricity generated by renewables or nuclear becomes. The government expects to see carbon prices harden after 2012 when the next phase of the European Union’s emissions trading scheme is due to come into force.

Today on BBC Radio 4 EON (energy provider) and Westinghouse (nuclear station construction) were interviewed. Both indicated they are happy with the government’s announcement and both also indicated they were looking to start ASAP on buillding 4 nuclear power stations, to be ready by 2017 at the earliest. Of this 10 year period 5 are expected to be taken up with planning and then it takes 5 years to build a station.

The government has spent the last few years laying the foundations for todays announcement by taking out the cost of decommissioning old stations from market pricing considerations and selling other areas of operation over to the nuclear industry. To see a comprehensive report on the nuclear debate from the Guardian see here. For other articles on the nuclear question see the Guardian archive.

Today’s decision comes as the UK stepped closer to getting it’s first new coal fired power station in 20 years, to be based in Kent.

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