Discussions continue over the commitment to a proposed new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. But at an estimated cost of £24.5bn, would it be money well spent?
Yes, says Mike Tynan, chief executive of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre
Britain is set to see a relentless increase in electricity demand in the coming decades. At the same time, we must manage the complex challenges of a transition to a low-carbon economy, or face even greater and less predictable costs.
Nuclear power is the only proven technology for low-carbon baseload electricity generation for the UK. New nuclear stations are an expensive capital investment, but each will provide at least six decades worth of economic, efficient and safe electricity.
Consumers demand power at the flick of a switch, whether or not the sun shines or the wind blows, and nuclear power has a 60-year track record of safely delivering baseload electricity for the UK.
Although UK industry does not own any of the new reactor designs, new build will provide significant and sustainable opportunities. Hundreds of manufacturers across Britain – not least in the world-class nuclear cluster in north-west England, and around the new reactor sites in the south-west and North Wales – are already investing in the skills needed to supply the industry.
Many are targeting export opportunities, particularly in China. The UK has the potential to lead development of the next generation of nuclear technology, including smaller, less capital-intensive, modular reactors.
If we can develop our nuclear expertise, the UK can regain a global lead in high-value, low-carbon generation technology. @NuclearAMRC
No, says Jonathon Porritt, founder director of Forum for the Future
The contrast between investment prospects for the nuclear industry (inflexible, high-risk and monstrously expensive technology) and prospects for today’s alternative energy system (secure, efficient, distributed energy options, powered primarily by renewables and smart storage technologies) becomes more and more pronounced.
The likelihood of the two proposed reactors at Hinkley Point ever getting built recedes by the day. But is anyone really surprised by that? Investors know how to read projected cost curves.
A key aspect of the nuclear versus renewables debate is the pace of change: how fast is R&D converting into early-investment prospects; just how fast is innovation of that kind converting into commercial projects; and just how fast are those projects converting into scalable rollout programmes.
There’s been little innovation in basic reactor design since the 1950s. By contrast, it’s hard to keep up with the scale of new investment propositions in renewables, efficiency and storage.
Much of this innovation comes from outside today’s ever so disruptable energy sector, with Elon Musk (of Tesla) blazing a trail on battery technology, and Google’s Nest teaming up with SolarCity to make their energy management and solar technologies jointly available to Californian consumers. From an innovation point of view, the battle’s over. @jonathonporritt
Is it worth spending £24.5bn on a new nuclear power station? Let us know your views