Nuclear Power Backup Plan

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted March 12, 2013

An interesting story was posted on the Guardian yesterday, saying that the UK government needs a “plan B” on nuclear power because of the danger that new reactors will not be built in time to avoid energy shortages.

Many of the UK’s ageing reactors will be decommissioned and there is no clear strategy for their replacement, the paper says.

The ambitions of the UK’s nuclear industry have been dealt significant blows in recent months: the Horizon consortium fell apart…Cumbria’s councillors rejected the building of a long-term waste repository over there. EDF Energy, the French national energy company that will lead the building of the first plant, is in a stand-off with ministers over demands for higher prices for its energy, and work on the first potential reactor is likely to face further opposition, endangering the government’s timetable for new plants,” writes Fiona Harvey in the Guardian.

Wind power can provide one way out of this particular conundrum. First of all, a wind farm once consented can be up and running within the space of six months to one year, while a nuclear power plant takes an average of ten years to build.

Secondly, the price of nuclear power is always rising – which is one of the reasons behind today’s nuclear conundrum. Today, onshore wind power is already competitive with new coal and gas power generation, and cheaper than nuclear power. New onshore wind costs between €50 – 75/MWh or €5 – 7.5 c/kWh, while new nuclear costs around 10c€/kWh (2010 figures). Offshore wind power is more expensive than traditional fuels but costs are falling, and with investment in research and development and an expansion of the sector leading to economies of scale, offshore wind power can be fully competitive by 2030.

Moreover, nuclear is likely to become even more expensive with the inevitable increases in costs of safety and liability following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, and nuclear decommissioning costs are huge. In the UK alone nuclear decommissioning costs have been estimated at £53 billion (€64 billion) – an amount which would bring 54 GW of onshore wind power online, producing 41% of the UK’s power production.

Wind power could be part of the UK government’s “plan B” on nuclear.


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