As part of its contribution to the energy debate the NIA compiled a set of facts and figures about nuclear energy:
Nuclear power is a proven form of electricity generation worldwide
Nuclear supplies 16% of the world’s electricity. There are currently over 440 commercial nuclear reactors operating in 30 countries, with a further 65 under construction.
Nuclear energy currently supplies around 16.5% of the UK’s electricity
Nuclear energy has supplied up to a third of the country’s electricity safely and reliably since 1956. The UK industry, with 18 reactors on 9 sites, currently supplies nearly a sixth of the country’s electricity.
The world has changed dramatically over the last few years
The importance of climate change to policy thinking has increased. Security of supply concerns have grown and energy prices across the board have risen sharply, pushed up by global oil and gas prices. In the UK, carbon dioxide emissions have started to fall but remain high by international standards, and progress on energy efficiency and renewables uptake has been disappointing. North Sea oil and gas resources are running out faster than expected.
The UK needs substantial investment in generating capacity over the next 20 years
Demand from consumers will continue to grow. Many coal-fired stations will not meet emissions legislation and may have to close. Nine of our ten nuclear power stations are due to close over the next 15 years. Investment is therefore needed to replace over 30% of today’s generating capacity. The UK has set environmental targets to reduce carbon emissions, which will necessitate using less fossil fuel. Renewable sources of electricity, currently supplying 7% of the UK’s electricity, can not grow fast enough to replace the electricity shortfall on their own, nor can they independently ensure stable electricity supplies.
A balanced energy mix will help to ensure security of energy supply in the UK
A balanced energy mix will reduce the UK’s dependency on imported fuels, potentially from politically unstable regions. Renewable sources are indigenous, and nuclear can provide a large scale, reliable sources of baseload electricity (the electricity needed to run our basic services which cannot be avoided). Together with coal, gas and oil from diverse sources, including the UK’s own production, they are the best protection against risk of supply interruptions and excessive costs of raw fuel which have an impact on UK competitiveness.
Nuclear is a low-carbon source of energy, making it a valuable contributor in the battle against climate change
Nuclear power generation produces negligible carbon dioxide (a by-product of fossil fuel generation which is the main cause climate change). Independent studies have shown that the full lifecycle carbon emissions of nuclear energy (which include construction, uranium mining, milling and enrichment, fuel fabrication as well as decommissioning) are a fraction of those for fossil fuels and much the same as those of renewables such as wind turbines. In the UK, 70% of our low-carbon electricity comes from nuclear. The power generated by existing power stations avoids the emissions of 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – the equivalent of taking nearly half of Britain’s cars off the roads.
The UK’s civil nuclear programme has an outstanding safety record
All facilities are licensed by the industry regulator the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), part of the Health and Safety Executive. Modern reactors have reliable advanced safety systems – and any imbalance in the normal system operation will lead to automatic shutdown.
Modern nuclear power stations are amongst the most robust, secure structures in the world
Power stations are extremely robust structures and have a multi-layered defence against possible terrorist attacks. The Government’s ONR is responsible for approving security arrangements within the industry and enforcing compliance. Even after the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, most of the nuclear power stations in the affected region were shut down safely, though the four oldest reactors did suffer considerable releases of radioactive material. However, we should emphasise the differences between Japan and the UK. The UK is not near any major seismic fault-lines and is not susceptible to the magnitude of earthquakes experienced in Japan. UK plants are protected against the effects of a 1 in 10,000 years earthquake. meaning that even if they were hit by the worst earthquake that could be expected in 10,000 years, our plants would be safe.
Nuclear energy is an economically competitive form of power generation
Unlike for fossil fuel generation, fuel costs represent a small fraction of the total operating costs for nuclear power. As a result, generation costs are stable and predictable. A range of independent studies (Royal Academy of Engineering, OECD), show full nuclear lifecycle costs, including decommissioning and waste management, to be competitive with other sources.
The UK has managed its radioactive waste safely for over half a century
All UK wastes are securely contained and an ever-increasing proportion is being solidified to make it suitable for long-term management. Other countries have already demonstrated that safe and secure long-term management and permanent disposal of nuclear wastes is technically feasible. Following successful Government and public consultation, the process for constructing deep geological radioactive waste disposal sites is under way in countries such as Finland and Sweden.
The Government has also decided to use deep geological disposal for the UK’s higher level wastes following the report of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) in 2006. The report firmly recommended that the UK’s high and intermediate level waste should be stored in a secure deep geological repository. The NDA has taken the lead in establishing a site for the repository and has received expressions of interest from communities in Cumbria interested in hosting such a facility. The industry has the technical capability to continue to safely manage waste. It is not a technical issue as some pressure groups would suggest. The point about nuclear waste is that it is safely contained and is not out in the atmosphere causing harm to our environment unlike the carbon dioxide from fossil fuel stations.
If a fleet of new plants were commissioned to replace the current ones, they would only add around 10% to the volume of existing waste over their 60-year lifespan.
World class, competitive industry of highly skilled professionals
The civil nuclear industry employs around 50,000 highly skilled people throughout the UK, with a total of over 80,000 jobs being directly or indirectly linked with the industry. Companies in the UK nuclear industry have the capability of providing more than 80% of the work involved in new nuclear power station projects in the UK. The industry has the experience to operate and maintain them throughout their full lifecycle.
Modern reactor designs are more efficient
New reactor designs are being licensed and built in other countries, such as Finland, France, China and India and South Korea. Modern designs are smaller, quicker and should prove cheaper to build once a major programme is established. They utilise the latest approaches on safety and produce far less waste than older designs.
Nuclear fuel supplies are assured
Accessible and affordable uranium ore from known reserves in politically stable countries can be assured for the full lifetime of a fleet of new UK reactors. The required amount of fuel is small in volume and is easily stored, indeed it would be technically possible to store all the fuel for the lifetime of a nuclear reactor on site if necessary. A rapid expansion of nuclear power on a worldwide scale would not overturn this position.
New nuclear build in the UK is achievable
Support for nuclear energy has increased. For example, 70% of the British public think that nuclear power should form part of a balanced energy mix for the future (MORI, December 2010), a picture little changed by events at Fukushima. There are challenges to achieving a new build programme, but if government, regulators and industry work together then these can be overcome. The workforce and supply chain companies, in the UK and world-wide, are capable of delivering a fleet of new reactors.