The UK government hopes to plough ahead with its biggest expansion of nuclear power for decades, despite major concerns over safety, cost, the legacy of nuclear waste, and its link to nuclear weapons.
A long-awaited plan was unveiled by ministers on Thursday and follows a commitment made at COP28 last November to triple nuclear power production by 2050. The roadmap includes plans by government and the nuclear industry to cut red tape in order to “accelerate new nuclear projects,” build another nuclear reactor in addition to Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, and make investment decisions on new nuclear projects every five years from 2030 to 2044. £300 million has also been made available to launch a high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) programme – making Britain the only country in Europe after Russia to commercially produce such a fuel.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak lauded his nuclear plan as the “perfect antidote to the energy challenges facing Britain” adding “it’s green, cheaper in the long term and will ensure the UK’s energy security for the long-term.” But is it?
Britain’s two existing nuclear projects – Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C – have been beset with problems since the beginning. A 2015 forecast of Hinkley Point put the project at around £25 billion. These costs have since spiralled by 30 percent to £33 billion and the start date for the plant is likely to be in the early 2030s instead of 2027. Sizewell C is also struggling to attract private financing and the government has already spent over £1 billion on the project. Energy consumers too will pay more: a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) funding model proposed to help fund the project will add a levy to customer bills years before the plant ever starts to generate electricity.
Safety standards within Britain’s nuclear industry have also been under the spotlight recently. The Guardian’s Nuclear Leaks investigation revealed a litany of safety concerns at the Sellafield nuclear waste site including: crumbling infrastructure at some of the site’s most dangerous areas; security breaches; and a toxic workplace culture including harassment of whistleblowers. The scandal has already led to senior management leaving.
Sellafield remains Europe’s most toxic nuclear site and efforts to build a new underwater nuclear waste dump in Cumbria or Lincolnshire have so far failed to achieve community support.
CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:
“The nuclear lobby was an obvious presence at last November’s COP28 summit and the UK government is working overtime to sell to the public the myth that nuclear power is the answer to the climate crisis and Britain’s energy needs. The evidence points in the opposite direction as renewables are cheaper, faster to deliver, and cleaner. Meanwhile, Hinkley Point C is seriously delayed and overbudget and the government thinks it’s ok to bill consumers twice for Sizewell C: once through taxation and again through a levy on consumer bills. Even if these projects were brought in on time and on budget, it still doesn’t solve the issue of Britain’s shocking record when it comes to safety, as shown in the recent Sellafield Leaks, or with what to do with nuclear waste. We must also bear in mind the main reason this government is so in favour of nuclear power: it helps to normalise Britain’s nuclear weapons and ensures a steady stream of skilled personnel to maintain and manufacturer them. Anyone who tells you any different is living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.”