New documents submitted to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) by one of its advisory bodies have shown that the government could be considering building as many as 50 new nuclear power stations. The figure, ten times the number the DECC was believed to be considering, will likely cause much turbulence in the energy community.
The last 18 months have seen wind and solar subsidies cut and increases pressure on the government to step in where it has reduced green levies for energy companies, and the scale of the suggested investment in nuclear will likely leave the renewables sector feeling like it is being cut out of favour.
The DECC has made no secret of the an injection of ‘new nuclear’ into the UK’s energy economy, with an accompaniment of new coal-fired plants suggested to provide a protective buffer as the UK’s renewable energy sources are developed, installed and brought up to speed.
The openly-discussed figure was announced by ministers as 12 reactors capable of 16 gigawatts across five sites. The figures from the new documents reported on by the Guardian suggest 50 new large-scale modern reactors, and are more in line with a 2011 report by the energy department.
This older report suggested 75 gigawatts of nuclear output could be brought into the commercial energy economy by 2050. The nuclear power would provide a huge buffer – in theory, enough to provide 86% of UK electricity – which would allow older stations to be switched off with little risk of black-outs. Should renewables surpass expectations, the nuclear surplus would have the potential to boost the economy with a boon of energy supply, that could potentially be exported.
“Nuclear energy is vital for our energy security and we want it to be part of the energy mix in the future, alongside renewables and clean coal and gas. It’s important to model potential scenarios to plan for our future energy needs, but we haven’t set any targets for the amount of new nuclear to be developed.” said a DECC spokesperson
However, concerns have already arisen over the scale of the project and the waste it would cause.