Nuclear energy was first developed in the 1940s. By the 1950s the UK started to develop nuclear fission, with Calder Hall, being the world’s first commercially operating nuclear power plant in 1956. A nuclear power plant uses a process called nuclear fission to heat water. This generates steam which is then used to spin large turbines creating electricity.
Inside the reactor of a nuclear power plant, the core contains uranium fuel split into ceramic pellets. These ceramic pellets individually generate the same amount of energy as 150 gallons of oil. The pellets are stacked end-to-end in metal fuel rods. These are grouped into hundreds of rods, which are called a fuel assembly.
21% of the UK’s electricity is currently supplied through 15 nuclear power stations all owned by French company EDF Energy, however, this will fall in the next few years because eight of these will be decommissioned by 2035 due to them reaching the end of their working lives.
There is currently only one new plant being built in England, Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant. Construction for the facility started in 2018 and the first reactor should be operational in 2025. On completion it is expected to cost £20bn and will have a capacity of 3,200MW. When fully operational it will provide approximately 7% of the country’s current electricity needs.
With the high numbers of rectors being retired over the next few years there is also concern regarding the disposal of nuclear waste. Geological Disposal Facilities (GDF) are currently being considered by the Government to dispose of spent fuel from retired nuclear cores but there are currently no facilities in the UK.
Scottish Government’s, Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, 2023 states: “We do not support the building of new nuclear power plants, which due to the high costs of nuclear, as well as taking decades to build, will do nothing to address the urgent imperative of driving down energy prices.”
In a recent UK Government paper “Powering our net zero future” they confirmed Nuclear power remained an important part of meeting the UKs long-term goals for carbon reduction targets as it has a critical role in supporting intermittent renewables by providing power when more sustainable options such as wind is not blowing, or the sun does not shine.