Nuclear is flexible, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.

Deploying nuclear is one way to future-proof a low carbon grid. It is a key enabler, and not an obstacle, to the widespread roll out of wind and solar.

Look at France: they have been rolling out wind and solar alongside building new nuclear – a proper balanced approach. The past few weekends, the French nuclear fleet has pulled off some spectacular changes in output to accommodate that.

Take this past Sunday, April 7th. The fleet was already powered down to just under 30 GW to accommodate high winds from the storms and low nighttime demand. As the day started, the sun came out, and UK and other countries wind output was high: the fleet ramped down to just over 20 GW by mid afternoon . As the sun set, demand rose, and imports fell, nuclear output surged to 36 GW just before 9pm . That’s an 80% increase, and enough extra power to meet the UK’s entire household demand and more.

French power grid at 12am Sunday 7th April. Source: RTE
French power grid at 2.45pm Sunday 7th April. Source: RTE
French power grid at 8.45pm Sunday 7th April. Source: RTE


The story was the same over Easter and the week before, the nuclear fleet ramping up and down by up to 16 GW to ensure grid stability through demand changes and swings in renewable output.

France achieved this with reactors designed 50 years ago, many of them in operation for more than 40 years. Hinkley Point C, Sizewell C, and all the new reactors we will build beyond them are designed to do the same, and more.

We won’t use them like that initially, and perhaps for decades, as we have such a desperate shortage of baseload power. But these are reactors that will last for 60, 80, probably 100 years. Hopefully by then we will have many advancements in batteries, hydrogen and other things that mean we don’t need to load follow, but critically, we preserve the option.

Nuclear is unique in offering us either reliable baseload or flexible output depending on what we need, all while offering unparalleled environmental sustainability.

One more reason why net zero needs nuclear!

Lincoln Hill is the NIA’s Director of Policy and External Affairs.