Nuclear Power Is Not An Energy Policy

The British Government do not have an energy policy. They may think they have one, and they may regularly tell us that they have one, but in reality, they don’t. There are a number of elements of regulatory work and market intervention that they are engaged with, but none of these by itself is significant enough to count as a policy for energy. Moreover, all of these elements taken together do not add up to energy security, energy efficiency, decarbonisation and affordable energy.

What it takes to have an energy policy is a clear understanding of what is a realistic strategy for reinvestment in energy after the dry years of privatisation, and a focus on energy efficiency, and getting sufficient low carbon energy built to meet the Carbon Budget on time. Current British Government ambitions on energy are not realistic, will not attract sufficient investment, will not promote increased energy efficiency and will not achieve the right scale and speed of decarbonisation.

I’m going to break down my critique into a series of small chunks. The first one is a quick look at the numbers and outcomes arising from the British Government’s obsessive promotion of nuclear power, a fantasy science fiction that is out of reach, not least because the industry is dog-tired and motheaten.

Less than four years ago, in December 2011, the previous government, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, published its “Carbon Plan” (having issued a draft in March 2011). In there were the results of a curious piece of modelling, using software called “MARKAL”. The “core” run for electricity generation produced mix with 33 gigawatts (33 GW) of nuclear power, 45 GW of renewables and 28 GW of fossil fuel-fired power capacity with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology to scoop up the carbon dioxide and pump it deep underground out of harm’s way. Table 1 in the report, “Summary of 2050 future”, gave three alternative scenarios, “Renewables”, which showed a tendency towards more energy efficiency, “CCS” which required more bioenergy to be input to the system, and “Nuclear” which showed less energy efficiency. The nuclear power generation in each of these three options ranged between 16 GW (“Renewables”) and 75 GW (“Nuclear”).

Seventy-five gigawatts of nuclear power ? This is entirely unrealistic. Let me unpack some of the essential numbers to make my point.

First of all, take a look at Table 1 below of the currently operating UK nuclear power stations, and their current output capacity. Current generating capacity to the national power grid as of data this week is 6.659 GW – as long as Wylfa is back to full load (after it was shutdown owing to a problem with a stuck fuel element in March 2015). As long as there are no major problems with the rest of the already built nuclear power plant fleet, and scheduled plant closures are not delayed, for example by lifetime extensions, by the end of 2023, there will only be (Dungeness B) 1.05 + (Sizewell B)1.198 = 2.248 GW of generation capacity left.

The Nuclear National Policy Statements of 2011 and the subsequent Energy and Emissions Projections opened the way for a number of new nuclear power plants, but conditions in the nuclear power sector and the financial health of some of the companies, as well as global technological issues, makes some of these plans highly uncertain.

The firm and speculative plans that exist are for nuclear power plants in Table 2 (see below). The firm plans would amount to between 15.4 GW and 18.1 GW of extra nuclear generating capacity. The speculative plans could potentially provide between 3.54 GW and upwards of 10.45 GW of new nuclear generating capacity. Some of this would not be expected until after 2025. New nuclear power capacity in the UK by around 2025 could be of the order of 18.85 GW to 21.55 GW.

So, add up the potential new nuclear generating capacity to the plants still likely to be in operation at that time and you get a grand total of 21.098 GW to 23.798 GW. This looks nothing like 75 GW. In fact, it’s less than a third of that number. Whoever included the 75 GW number in early scoping reports should clearly have consulted more before doing so.

If the planned and speculative projects expected for 2025 do ever get built and generate power successfully, this capacity will double the maximum the UK has ever had operational at one time in the past, 12.129 GW between 1995 and 2000 according to IAEA data, which would require an incredible effort on behalf of the industry to provide the workforce with the necessary skills to run and manage the extra nuclear power plants.

However, far more importantly, how much power would all these projects provide ? And how much of the UK’s power would this be in percentage terms ? To answer these questions means having at our fingertips two undefinable, unknowable numbers : the load factors of the as yet unbuilt nuclear power plants; and the actual power demand of the country.

National Grid in their Future Energy Scenarios for 2014, put 2025 electricity demand roughly in the range 330 to 360 TWh per year. As for load factors, it really is impossible to say for certain. Of the nuclear power plants still in operation in Britain, the lifetime load factors, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), range from 41.9% for Dungeness B-1 to 83% for Sizewell B, with the majority of the plants averaging around 70%. Some of them had very low load factors in their early years, far lower than this figure, but we should be generous and grant our projection the figure 65%.

21.098 GW of new nuclear power at 65% load factor would generate 120.13 TWh a year and be 33.37% of National Grid’s top end power demand, and 36.4% of the low end power demand.

23.798 GW of new nuclear power at 65% load factor would generate 135.51 TWh a year and be 37.64% of National Grid’s top end power demand, and 41.06% of the low end power demand.

These figures might look quite healthy, but you need to remember this is just electricity. The energy required to be met by gas from the UK Future Energy Scenarios for 2014 ranges between 770 and 840 TWh. The total energy required to meet both power and gas demand would therefore range between 1,100 and 1,200 TWh per year, and nuclear power would be only supplying somewhere between 10.01% and 12.32% of that.

Choosing the nuclear route is highly insecure, as all manner of problems have presented themselves, any of which could potentially significantly derail this programme of works. The absolute bottom line is the cost of this plan. From an operational standpoint, baseload operation will always run the risk of one or more of the reactors or turbine generators being out of service. This new fleet of nuclear power plants would need to have backup equivalent to the largest reactor-turbine-transmission-cable combination, which could be the Moorside 3.6 GW plant. If Dungeness B and Sizewell B need to be closed before 2025, then firm capacity from the new nuclear fleet would be in the range of 15.25 GW to 17.95 GW. Is a new nuclear fleet the most cost-efficient way of providing this extra firm capacity to the UK’s power grid ? Almost certainly not.

The capital expenditure to build each of the new planned nuclear power plants is something like £5 billion per GW, so this programme could cost somewhere between £76.25 billion and £89.75 billion. Compare this to equivalent firm capacity that could come from the most efficient gas-fired power plants that could cost somewhere in the region of £400 million per GW installed : the total cost could be £6.1 billion to £7.18 billion. An order of magnitude cheaper. For the same extra firm generating capacity. Gas-fired power plants are highly flexible, so can reliably be used to back up new wind power and new solar power. In addition, they are smaller in scale than nuclear power plants and can be installed almost anywhere a gas supply can be piped – which could provide far more stability to the power grid.

But we want a lower carbon solution, so the question becomes how much would it cost to build wind power and solar power facilities with an annual power output of 140 TWh, underwritten by gas-fired power generation when the wind is now blowing and the sun is not shining ? I made some guesstimates about hours of the year when wind power would match power demand, and how much of any shortfall could be provided by solar power. I simply divided 140 TWh into 70 TWh of wind and 70 TWh of solar, although this could obviously be optimised. I used a load factor of 23% for wind power and 11% for solar photovoltaic power. I included a carbon recycling plant to produce Renewable Gas when there was excess wind power generation that couldn’t be used in the electricity grid.

What I found with simple calculations was interesting – see Table 3 below. The total cost of a representative wind-solar-gas combination would be in the region of £25.09 billion, so a third of the new nuclear option. It would have 47.13% of the carbon dioxide emissions of the equivalent power generation using just Natural Gas, and require the building of 35 GW nameplate capacity of new wind power, 73 GW of nameplate capacity new solar power, and 25 GW nameplate capacity of new gas-fired power plant (if what is already built could not be used).

Since I used all the worst available numbers, I’m sure the carbon emissions profile of a real-world combination would be much smaller. And anyway, nuclear power does not have a zero carbon dioxide emissions profile. The solar power would probably need to be installed mainly on buildings, as this would take up a lot of surface area. The costs of the Natural Gas fuel each year would be an operational cost that probably matched the operational expenditure of nuclear power, as the end-of-life decommissioning costs and waste nuclear fuel disposal costs have to be factored in.

It’s true that if the UK ditched the costly atomic energy project and took the cheaper renewables-plus-gas option, it could be hard to find the land area for further renewable power generation to completely decarbonise electricity, but this doesn’t justify wasting two thirds of the capital budget allocated to the low carbon power project by insisting on building new nuclear power plants. Committing to a renewables-plus-gas option would keep the UK in the grip of gas import dependency, but this is where homegrown Renewable Gas could come into play and ease this.

In summary : new nuclear power in the UK is a waste of capital, time and effort compared to the wind-solar-gas option, which could cost two thirds less.

I appeal for more policy sense.




Table 1 Currently operating British nuclear power plants


Dungeness
B
Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR)
IAEA gross capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.23 GW = 615 MW + 615 MW
IAEA design net capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.214 GW = 607 MW + 607 MW
DECC stated capacity (DUKES, 2014) 1.04 GW
EdF stated capacity (EdF, 2015b) 1.05 GW
Lifetime load factor (PRIS, 2015) B-1 : 41.9%; B-2 : 49.4%
EdF estimated decommissioning date (EdF,
2015b)
2028
Reactor Turbine Generator In service Status Startup Reference
21 21 -8 MW Planned shutdown 01-Jul-15 (EdF, 2015a)
22 22 -8 MW Planned shutdown 24-Aug-15 (EdF, 2015a)
Hartlepool Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR)
IAEA gross capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.31 GW = 655 MW + 655 MW
IAEA design net capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.25 GW = 625 MW + 600 MW
DECC stated capacity (DUKES, 2014) 1.18 GW
EdF stated capacity (EdF, 2015b) 1.18 GW
Lifetime load factor (PRIS, 2015) A-1 : 67.6%; A-2 : 69.4%
EdF estimated decommissioning date (EdF,
2015b)
2019
Reactor Turbine Generator In service Status Startup Reference
1 1 455 MW Online (EdF, 2015a)
2 2 458 MW Online (EdF, 2015a)
Heysham 1 Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR)
IAEA gross capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.25 GW = 625 MW + 625 MW
IAEA design net capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.22 GW = 611 MW + 611 MW
DECC stated capacity (DUKES, 2014) 1.155 GW
EdF stated capacity (EdF, 2015b) 1.155 GW
Lifetime load factor (PRIS, 2015) A-1 : 67.4%; A-2 : 66.5%
EdF estimated decommissioning date (EdF,
2015b)
2019
Reactor Turbine Generator In service Status Startup Reference
1 1 308 MW Reduced load (EdF, 2015b)
2 2 0 MW Planned shutdown 27-Jul-15 (EdF, 2015b)
Heysham 2 Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR)
IAEA gross capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.36 GW = 680 MW + 680 MW
IAEA design net capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.23 GW = 615 MW + 615 MW
DECC stated capacity (DUKES, 2014) 1.22 GW
EdF stated capacity (EdF, 2015b) 1.23 GW
Lifetime load factor (PRIS, 2015) B-1 : 77.4%; B-2 : 75.0%
EdF estimated decommissioning date (EdF,
2015b)
2023
Reactor Turbine Generator In service Status Startup Reference
7 7 625 MW Reduced load (EdF, 2015b)
8 8 623 MW Reduced load (EdF, 2015b)
Hinkley Point B Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR)
IAEA gross capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.31 GW = 655 MW + 655 MW
IAEA design net capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.25 GW = 625 MW + 625 MW
DECC stated capacity (DUKES, 2014) 945 MW
EdF stated capacity (EdF, 2015b) 955 MW
Lifetime load factor (PRIS, 2015) B-1 : 77.1%; B-2 : 73.5%
EdF estimated decommissioning date (EdF,
2015b)
2023
Reactor Turbine Generator In service Status Startup Reference
3 7 483 MW Nominal full load (EdF, 2015b)
4 8 487 MW Nominal full load (EdF, 2015b)
Hunterston B Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR)
IAEA gross capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.288 GW = 644 MW + 644 MW
IAEA design net capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.248 GW = 624 MW + 624 MW
DECC stated capacity (DUKES, 2014) 960 MW
EdF stated capacity (EdF, 2015b) 965 MW
Lifetime load factor (PRIS, 2015) B-1 : 71.0%; B-2 : 70.2%
EdF estimated decommissioning date (EdF,
2015b)
2023
Reactor Turbine Generator In service Status Startup Reference
3 7 120 MW Low-load refuelling (EdF, 2015b)
4 8 494 MW Nominal full load (EdF, 2015b)
Sizewell B Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR)
IAEA gross capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.25 GW
IAEA design net capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.188 GW
DECC stated capacity (DUKES, 2014) 1.198 GW
EdF stated capacity (EdF, 2015b) 1.198 GW
Lifetime load factor (PRIS, 2015) 83.00%
EdF estimated decommissioning date (EdF,
2015b)
2035
Reactor Turbine Generator In service Status Startup Reference
1 1 598 MW Nominal full load (EdF, 2015b)
1 2 598 MW Nominal full load (EdF, 2015b)
Torness Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR)
IAEA gross capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.364 GW = 682 MW + 682 MW
IAEA design net capacity (PRIS, 2015) 1.27 GW = 645 MW + 625 MW
DECC stated capacity (DUKES, 2014) 1.185 GW
EdF stated capacity (EdF, 2015b) 1.190 GW
Lifetime load factor (PRIS, 2015) 1 : 71.6%; 2 : 72.3%
EdF estimated decommissioning date (EdF,
2015b)
2023
Reactor Turbine Generator In service Status Startup Reference
1 1 411 MW Low-load refuelling (EdF, 2015b)
2 2 546 MW Nominal full load (EdF, 2015b)
Wylfa Magnox
IAEA gross capacity (PRIS, 2015) 530 MW
IAEA design net capacity (PRIS, 2015) 550 MW
DECC stated capacity (DUKES, 2014) 490 MW
Magnox stated capacity (Magnox, 2015a) 460 MW
Lifetime load factor (PRIS, 2015) 70.10%
Ofgem estimated decommissioning date
(Ofgem, 2014)
2015
Reactor Turbine Generator In service Status Startup Reference
1      1 & 2 469 MW Online (Magnox, 2015a, 2015b)




References

DECC (2014) “Digest of UK Energy Statistics”, by UK Her Majesty’s Government, Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Chapter 5, Table 5.10 : Online : https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/electricity-chapter-5-digest-of-united-kingdom-energy-statistics-dukes

EdF (2015a) “Power Stations : Daily Statuses”, by Électricité de France (EdF, EDF Energy) : Online : http://www.edfenergy.com/energy/power-station/daily-statuses

EdF (2015b) “Our energy”, by Électricité de France (EdF, EDF Energy) : Online : http://www.edfenergy.com/energy

Magnox (2015a). “Wylfa”, by Magnox Limited, owned and operated by Cavendish Fluor Partnership Limited : Online : http://www.magnoxsites.co.uk/site/wylfa/

Magnox (2015b). “Electricity Generation”, by Magnox Limited : Online : http://www.magnoxsites.co.uk/what-we-do/sites/electricity-generation/

PRIS (2015) “Power Reactor Information System”, by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Country Statistics, GB : Online : https://www.iaea.org/PRIS/CountryStatistics/CountryDetails.aspx?current=GB




Table 2 Plans for new British Nuclear Power

a. Definite plans for new British nuclear power plants (WEF, 2015)

Hinkley Point C (EdF EPR) 3.2 GW (WEF, 2015)
Moorside (NuGen) 3.6 GW (WEF, 2015)
Oldbury (Horizon ABWR) 2.7 GW (2 x 1.35 GW) or 4.05 GW (3 x 1.35 GW) (UoB, 2015)
Sizewell C (EdF EPR) 3.2 GW (WEF, 2015)
Wylfa Newydd (Horizon ABWR) 2.7 GW (2 x 1.35 GW) or 4.05 GW (3 x 1.35 GW) (UoB, 2015)

Total between 15.4 GW and 18.1 GW

Note : plans for Oldbury and Wylfa combined are being quoted as 7.8 GW (DECC, 2013) which would make the total 17.8 GW

b. Possible plans for new British nuclear power plants

Bradwell 1.65 GW (WEF, 2015)
Hartlepool 2 1.8 GW (BBC, 2009) start date : 2020 (ecITB, 2013)
Heysham 3 ? (WEF, 2015) end date : 2030 (ecITB, 2013)
Small Modular Reactors 7 GW (NNL, 2014) end date : 2035 (NNL, 2014)

Total between 3.54 GW and upwards of 10.45 GW

Note : it is not clear if the Heysham 3 option is still under consideration, as EdF Energy put this plan “on ice” in 2012 (BBC, 2012), although some still think it is a possibility (The Visitor, 2013).

References

BBC (2009). “Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station”, by British Broadcasting Corporation, 13 July 2009 : Online : http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/tees/hi/people_and_places/newsid_8147000/8147592.stm

BBC (2012). “Third nuclear power station at Heysham plans on ice”, by British Broadcasting Corporation, 14 March 2012 : Online : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-17374496

DECC (2013). Freedom of Information Request, 13/1740 and 13/1741 : Online : https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/267425/1740_and_1741.pdf

ecITB (2013). “UK Engineering Construction Industry Sector Profiles 2013”, by Engineering Construction Industry Training Board, Issue 4, December 2012 : Online : http://www.ecitb.org.uk/custom/ecitb/docManager/documents/Industry%20Sector%20Profiles%20Issue%204%20(2013).pdf

NNL (2014). “Small Modular Reactors (SMR) : Feasibility Study”, by National Nuclear Laboratory, December 2014 : Online : http://www.nnl.co.uk/media/1627/smr-feasibility-study-december-2014.pdf

The Visitor (2013). “Third power station still a real option”, The Visitor, 17 July 2013 : Online : http://www.thevisitor.co.uk/news/local/third-power-station-still-a-real-option-1-5860247

UoB (2015). “Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd host Advanced Boiling Water Reactor seminar at University of Birmingham”, 1 May 2015 : Online : http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/university/colleges/eps/news/college/2015/05/Hitachi-GE-Nuclear-Energy-Ltd-host-Advanced-Boiling-Water-Reactor-seminar-at-University-of-Birmingham-.aspx

WEF (2015). “UK Nuclear Policy & Delivery Review”, Westminster Energy Forum, February 2015 : Online : http://www.westminsterenergy.org/sites/default/files/WEF%20Nuclear%20slides%20Feb%202015.pdf




Table 3 : What would you need to displace 140 TWh of new nuclear every year in the UK ?


WEC Reference http://www.worldenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/WEC_J1143_CostofTECHNOLOGIES_021013_WEB_Final.pdf
$:£ 0.8
£/MWh
WEC Wind average 136 35 GW 70.00 TWh 9.52 £ billion Wind load factor 23 %
WEC Solar PV average 128 73 GW 70.00 TWh 8.96 £ billion Solar PV load factor 11 %
WEC CCGT 70 25 GW 63.86 TWh 4.47 £ billion Gas-fired generation 29 %
Carbon Recycling Renewable Gas plant 220 1.11 GW 9.74 2.14 £ billion
Total 25.09 £ billion
Wind (GW)
34.74
Hours of the year (%) Hours of wind generation per year Usable capacity (%) Usable wind capacity (GW) Solar available for backup (GW) Gas-fired backup capacity (GW) Gas TWh Gas load factor
Missing wind 5 438 0 0.00 9.44 25.30 11.08
Poorly matching wind 43 3766.8 12 4.17 15.26 15.32 57.70
Well-matching wind 33 2890.8 45 15.63 16.71 2.40 6.94
Precisely matching wind 11 963.6 100 34.74 0.00 0.00 0.00
Excess wind 8 700.8
Maximum 25.30 75.72 28.81
Total 100 8760
Renewable
Gas production
9.74 TWh Gas firing 75.72 TWh
Gas-fired
generation firing on Natural Gas
65.98 TWh
Carbon
profile of comparable CCGT
47.13 %




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