UK's latest 'carbon budget' sees 5-10 GW of nuclear in 2050

09 December 2020

In its sixth carbon budget, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) puts the share of nuclear in the UK's electricity mix at between 5 GW and 10 GW by 2050. The country currently generates about 20% of its power from nuclear, but nearly half of its current capacity is to be retired by 2025. One new plant is under construction, Hinkley Point C, while the government has yet to comment on its support for a second, Sizewell C. These twin-unit plants would have a combined capacity of 6.4 GW.

Under the UK Climate Change Act, the UK must reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Act also requires the government to set a new carbon budget every five years, following the advice of the CCC. The Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-2037), which was published today, must be legislated by June 2021.

"Nuclear is a mature technology, but we assume cost reductions for future plants after Hinkley Point C from utilising similar plant design and lower-cost financing arrangements (which the government are currently considering)," the report says, noting that the nuclear industry provides 6% of existing low-carbon jobs in the UK.

"Although we expect electricity costs to fall in the long run, we first expect costs to rise to 2030," the report says. "This reflects both the costs of support for low-carbon investment and costs of network reinforcement, which is also recovered through energy bills, albeit spread over a long period as part of the UK’s regulated asset base."

Many of the costs have "already been committed" by existing policies.

"Low-carbon investment in the 2020s includes some more expensive options, such as renewables that were contracted several years ago, new nuclear power stations that have either agreed a higher price for their electricity or that we assume will cost more than renewables, and early carbon capture and storage plants that we expect to be relatively expensive," it says.

"Together, this adds costs of up to GBP9 billion [USD12 billion] per year, peaking in 2030 and falling away by 2040. We expect these to add over GBP100 by 2030 to the average annual energy bill for a typical household though this will depend on policy design (e.g. the government has proposed use of a regulated asset base model for future nuclear investments)."

The UK is "one of a few" global leaders in nuclear power, it says, "and is considering deploying Generation III nuclear reactors and small modular reactors". Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C are EPRs, which is a Generation III design.

In response to the report, Tom Greatrex, CEO of the UK's Nuclear Industry Association, said the CCC's recommendation that the country should build enough new nuclear to replace the current fleet by 2035 was "a good start", but he added that the UK will have to build twice that amount to be on track to meet its net zero by 2050 target.

"Nuclear is our only proven source of firm, emissions-free power that can do that. It also has one of the lowest lifecycle carbon footprints of any generating source, 14 times lower than gas with CCS, and has saved more in emissions than any other generating source in our [the UK's] history," Greatrex said. "Replacing the current fleet should be the starting point, not the limit, of our ambition."

The CCC describes its latest report as the "first ever detailed route map for a fully decarbonised nation" and "a world first".

It says the UK's polluting emissions must fall by almost 80% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels, adding that "just 18 months ago" this was the UK’s 2050 goal. To deliver this, a major investment programme across the country must be delivered, in large measure by the private sector, and that investment will also be the key to the UK’s economic recovery in the next decade, it says.

In a statement announcing the new report, CCC Chairman Lord Deben (John Gummer), said: “As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sixth Carbon Budget is a chance to jump-start the UK’s economic recovery. Anything less would shut us out of new economic opportunities. It would also undermine our role as President of the next UN climate talks."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News