UK facing electricity supply woes after nuclear power stations shut, MPs told

Larger and smaller reactors carry risks, island nation failed to keep pace with nuclear fleet closure

Electricity shortages appear inevitable for the UK due to the decommissioning of the nation's aging estate of nuclear power stations, according to evidence submitted by industry to politicians.

While energy prices spike and the UK looks for alternative, non-carbon sources of electricity generation, it must also deal with the ill-timed retirement of its conventional nuclear fission-based power stations.

Writing to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, Manchester University's Dalton Nuclear Policy Group said: "Sadly, it is now much too late to avoid a negative impact on the UK's electricity supply due to the closure of our nuclear fleet. All eleven of Britain's Magnox plants have been shut down for many years – the last being the Wylfa plant on Anglesey which ceased operation on New Year's Eve 2015.

It added: "The fleet of Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) operated by [French energy firm] EDF is also now seeing closures."

In February, the UK government was warned taxpayers would have to make up a multibillion-pound shortfall to decommission nuclear power stations unless a history of overspending is reversed. EDF Energy runs seven AGR stations in the UK, part of eight second-generation reactors set to be decommissioned which provide 16 percent of the nation's electricity. The AGR stations are scheduled to stop producing electricity by 2028.

Last year the government injected £5.1 billion ($5.8 billion) into the Nuclear Liabilities Fund – now valued at £14.8 billion ($17 billion) – which it set up in 1996 to meet the costs of decommissioning AGR and Pressurized Water Reactor stations. But EDF's latest cost estimate to decommission the stations in March last year was £23.5bn ($27 billion). Public spending watchdog the National Audit Office has warned more money will be needed unless the government and EDF avoid overspending.

But as well as overspending, decommissioning also presents a problem for electricity supply.

"It is unlikely that there will be any significant extension to these projected dates, although there may be scope for some slight delays in closure. Once the AGRs are all closed, the UK will only have one reactor from the current nuclear fleet still operational – the pressurised water reactor at Sizewell B," Dalton Nuclear Policy Group said.

The group added that the fall in nuclear energy production, which was affecting the grid, was not down to any failure of past or existing plants. "Instead it is due to the failure since 2008 – with the exception of the long-delayed Hinkley Point C – of all proposals for a nuclear renaissance in the UK to move from plans to reality," the group said.

In May, EDF admitted to another year's delay and £3 billion ($3.5 billion) extra cost in Hinkely Point C – the UK's first nuclear power station to be built in 20 years. The revised operating date for the site in Somerset is now June 2027 and total costs are estimated to be in the range of £25 billion to £26 billion ($29 billion).

EDF said it would have no cost impact on British consumers or taxpayers. The power station had been due online by 2017 at a cost of around £20 billion ($22 billion).

In November 2020, then prime minister Boris Johnson announced a £12 billion ($14 billion) investment in green energy, including £525 million ($603 million) to "help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants, and research and develop new advanced modular reactors."

The Science and Technology Committee is set to hear oral evidence for its inquiry on Delivering Nuclear Power during hearings this week. ®

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