Hinkley Point may be taking all the attention at present, but it is not the be all and end all of nuclear power in the UK. There is plenty more in the pipeline so, whatever happens in Somerset, progress can be made elsewhere. The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation aims to complete Generic Design Assessments for new reactors, the AP1000 and Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), during 2017.
NuGen, jointly owned by Japan’s Toshiba and France’s Engie, is progressing with plans to build an AP1000 at Moorside in West Cumbria. At present, they are carrying out site assessment surveys, including geophysical surveys, geological age dating and some borehole drilling work, which must be completed before construction can begin. AP1000 reactors, designed by Westinghouse, are being planned in multiple countries worldwide, with the first plants scheduled to come online in China this year. There have been some delays on these world-first reactors, but not as serious as those in France and Finland for the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) proposed for Hinkley.
Horizon, owned by Hitachi, are also continuing with their plans for an ABWR at Wylfa on Anglesey. Site development work is progressing, with plans to begin construction in 2018/9 and start generation in the mid 2020s. A total of four ABWRs have been constructed, all in Japan, and all completed on time and on budget. Following Fukushima, all nuclear plants were shut down and no ABWRs have yet re-opened, but three are being reviewed for re-opening and having nearby seismic faults assessed. Japan also had two ABWRs under construction before Fukushima. Work was suspended but has since re-started on both sites.
These two projects are independent of Hinkley and should continue regardless of its fate. According to the Telegraph, a source close to the Horizon venture said “we know the government wants and needs nuclear to happen. All the questions over Hinkley, we’ve got answers to.” Neither of these reactors are currently reliant on Chinese finance. The Chinese investment is one speculated reason for the delay at Hinkley, with human rights and security both voiced as concerns. Additionally, neither of these projects are using a controversial EPR design, which has experienced delays and over-spends elsewhere.
In addition to these planned sites, there is also ongoing research and development into the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors. The Government promised, in Autumn 2015, an investment of £250 million over 5 years to develop the reactors of the future. This includes a competition to decide which small modular reactor or reactors should be demonstrated in the UK. Advanced reactors have the potential to be cheaper, even cleaner and even safer than current designs, and have added benefits such as the potential ability to use up spent fuel and the plutonium stockpile. (Weinberg Next Nuclear will soon be publishing a report on how to manage plutonium).
It is very important that the Government continues the advanced reactor programme and keeps nuclear as a priority in the UK’s clean energy mix. This will ensure the UK can benefit from safe, secure and sustainable nuclear energy for many years to come, regardless of decisions on Hinkley.