What’s the story?
New analysis conducted by the Nuclear Industry Association of figures published by the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) has found parts of the UK that are powered by a combination of nuclear and wind are already hitting 2030 carbon targets.
According to the study, Southern Scotland and North East England (which both have two operational nuclear power stations alongside substantial renewable capacity), as well as North West England (which is home to Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station and a number of wind farms) were the regions with the cleanest power last year, achieving the UK’s electricity decarbonisation target on more than 85 per cent of days in 2020.
Commenting on the analysis, Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said:
“Nuclear power, in partnership with renewables, is essential to reaching net zero. We should re-create what we have achieved in Northern England and Southern Scotland across the country: getting nuclear and renewables working together to cut emissions. To do that, we need to build new nuclear power stations alongside renewable capacity. These figures show the great service our existing fleet has rendered to the nation, but the time has come to build a new fleet. That investment, as part of a robust zero-carbon mix, will kickstart a green recovery and our transition to a green economy.”
Why is this positive news for the planet?
Although the UK remains dependent on fossil fuels (the UK as a whole achieved carbon targets on just 13 of the days analysed), the fact that some regions are already reaching future decarbonisation targets by using the combination of both nuclear and renewable energy is a positive step forward in the necessary move away from fossil fuels. The UK government has already committed to ending taxpayer support for overseas fossil fuel projects.
According to the analysis, out of the 358 days for which data is published, nuclear power was the leading zero-carbon generator on 44 per cent (158 days) of that time, with wind power leading on the other 200 days. According to the Nuclear Industry Association, nuclear power has saved over 1 billion tonnes of carbon emissions in the UK over the lifetime of the industry, more than any other electricity source.
In a white paper released late last year, the UK government identified nuclear power as a ‘clean energy’, which could help the country achieve its net zero target by increasing its clean energy generation four-fold. The same Energy White Paper also noted that renewable energy accounts for over one-third of electricity generation in the UK.
The UK has pledged the deepest cuts in greenhouse gas emissions out of the Group of 2020 nations, vowing to cut levels by 68 per cent, relative to 1990 levels, by 2030.
Where’s the catch?
Although almost every second person is concerned about nuclear power plants, it is now widely accepted within the power industry that nuclear will be the quickest way to achieve net zero targets. It is considered more reliable than wind or solar energy – particularly in a country where the sun doesn’t shine all year round.
However, criticism of nuclear energy as a partner to renewables it that it is not suited to adjusting its output to run flexibly. There are concerns about the amount of waste produced by nuclear energy, that it is expensive to run and nuclear plants require frequent repairs.
There’s also the issue that seven of the UK’s eight nuclear power stations are due to retire by 2030. Hunterston B, Hinkley Point B, Heysham 1 and Hartlepool nuclear power stations are all scheduled to move into defuelling by the end of March 2024.
In 2016, the UK government agreed contracts for the first new nuclear power plant in a generation – Hinkley Point C – which is set to come online in 2026 and will provide seven per cent of the country’s current electricity needs, however is facing cost overruns and six months of delays.
Where can I get more information?
Read more about this latest analysis at niauk.org.