Building Britain's Biggest Nuclear Power Station
Building Britain's biggest nuclear power station has a complicated history - from a disastrous accident in the Eighties to the complexities of Small modular reactors - but technology has come a long way since those days. A reinforced concrete fortress will house the reactors, which are designed to withstand earthquakes, tsunamis and plane crashes. A BBC documentary by Mat Stimpson reveals the progress of the construction, but its success doesn't necessarily rely on the presence of cameras.
A new nuclear power station is needed to supply power to the country. Britain currently has three, with Sizewell C the largest. It is currently scheduled to stop generating electricity in 2035. But the government is considering extending Sizewell B's licence to 2035. That's an unprecedented length of time to build a nuclear power plant. In the meantime, the government is looking to expand the Sizewell C reactor, which is due to open in June 2023.
The sizewell C project has received a government allocation of GBP100 million. The project, led by EDF, will be built in Suffolk, with two EPRs, each able to produce 3.2 gigawatts of electricity. This plant is expected to be comparable to Hinkley Point C, which is already under construction in Somerset. The government will have to decide how it wants to allocate its risk.
EDF, the owner of the two existing reactors, has chosen a different funding model for the new station. The French company EDF has a joint venture with China's CGN to provide funds for the new plant. In return, EDF will take 80% of the development cost. The Chinese company is providing 20 percent of the funds. EDF Energy is the country's largest nuclear power company and plans to build more than one reactor there.
Hinkley Point C
Construction of Hinkley Point C, Britain's largest nuclear power station, is underway. This massive building project will generate enough electricity for six million homes over 60 years. The project will also benefit the South West and the wider region, which will benefit from the creation of new training facilities and qualifications. Construction of Hinkley Point C is expected to be completed in 2018.
The government has approved the purchase of some of the equity in Hinkley Point C. The Chinese government's plan to take equity in the project was approved by the UK government, which said that the Chinese companies would have access to business opportunities in China's nuclear programme. In an announcement, the EDF Group said it had entered into an agreement with CNNC and CGN. The project is expected to begin construction on time and on budget.
The new power station will have two reactors and store all of the waste on-site. The plant will produce enough electricity for six million homes over its 60-year lifespan, generating seven percent of the country's electricity needs. The government's subsidies are a subject of debate. The European Commission is investigating the UK's plan to build Hinkley Point C, which was approved by the EU in October 2012.
Small modular reactors
A new design for Britain's largest nuclear power station could be small modular reactors. The new plants could produce 440 megawatts of electricity and be built in as little as ten years. The new plants could be installed at a rate of two each year, thereby significantly cutting the time it takes to build a nuclear power station. By contrast, the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station, which will cost PS22 billion, will only produce three gigawatts of electricity. In addition, the modular reactors could be built in as little as ten years and could be up and running in the same time as two nuclear reactors.
The SMR consortium is a collaboration of UK companies and other international firms. The consortium aims to build 16 reactors, each of which would be 470MWe. The consortium is working closely with the government on reducing capital costs, and has secured matching funding from the government's Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The UK supply chain is already able to manufacture the pressure vessel used for SMR reactors, reducing the time required to build them.
The consortium is working with the National Nuclear Laboratory to develop mini-nuclear plants in the UK, which could create 6,000 jobs in the next five years. The consortium is also in talks with overseas customers, including energy-hungry datacentres. The consortium also includes Laing O'Rourke, Assystem, SNC Laval/Atkins, Wood and the Welding Institute.
Cost of construction
Hinkley Point C, the UK's largest nuclear power station, is expected to cost more than PS22 billion to build. Its construction site, covering an area the size of 250 football pitches, is one of the largest in Europe. It's expected to produce electricity for over 6 million homes when it's finished in 2026, providing enough power to meet 7% of the country's electricity needs.
Hinkley Point C, which was due to be completed in 2016, was due to be completed in 2018. However, it ran into financial difficulties when the government intervened. The government had to bail out the company, which was already too big to fail. Ultimately, this resulted in a massive cost overrun. The UK government will be forced to fund the project, despite its previous insistence on private sector funding.
Hinkley Point C will contain two reactors, store all waste on site, and use two generators to produce electricity. It will offset nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year and 600 million tonnes over its lifespan. Once completed, Hinkley Point C will provide enough electricity to power six million homes, or seven percent of the UK's energy needs. However, the government has been accused of subsidizing the project with taxpayer money.
Construction began on the project in March 2017 but delays are due to the COVID-19 virus. The project will cost PS25-26billion. This is almost 50% higher than the original budget, set in 2016. The facility is expected to be operational by June 2027. The estimated lifespan is 60 years. If construction continues smoothly, it will generate electricity for about a quarter of the UK's power needs for decades.
Benefits to UK economy
The government has outlined a plan for increasing nuclear power production in the UK. By 2050, the country would generate 24 gigawatts of nuclear power, enough to meet about 25% of its electricity demand. While the benefits of nuclear power are debated in the UK, other countries have seen significant economic benefits from it. France, for example, has been a strong supporter of the technology and depends on it for 70% of its electricity.
Hinkley Point C will create thousands of jobs in Somerset, where it is to be built. It will be the largest nuclear construction site in Europe, and once it's completed, it will generate enough electricity for six million homes and supply seven per cent of the UK's electricity needs for the next 60 years. Hinkley C is expected to complete in 2026, making it one of the most significant and long-term investments in the UK's energy industry.
The UK government's plan may be considered illegal state aid by the European Commission, which opened an investigation into the project. However, the European Commission's Joaquin Almunia said the plans were an "unprecedented complex measure."
Reliance on overseas developers
The Government's long-awaited Nuclear Energy (Financing Bill) could allow government-owned nuclear plants to replace the Chinese company China General Nuclear Power Group. The China company, which has a 20 percent stake in the Sizewell C nuclear power station, is leaving the UK due to financial problems. The existing nuclear financing scheme has forced many overseas developers to abandon projects. Government ownership could ensure the projects are built safely and quickly, without the need to resort to risky debt.
The UK nuclear industry has a thriving workforce and many industries and jobs in the country. Hinkley Point C is one example of this. Its construction will create employment and apprenticeships for thousands of people. The country has nuclear services in Barnwood and Gloucestershire and welding manufacturing facilities in Glasgow. Rolls-Royce is developing its Small Modular Reactor in the UK. The Government's Net Zero strategy and Future Nuclear Enabling Fund have both allocated PS120 million to build nuclear projects. Despite this, the Wylfa site is still a suitable site.
As the UK's largest nuclear power station, Hinkley Point C, would be a vital part of the energy mix and could greatly reduce the country's dependence on global gas prices. But before the project can be built, it must first receive funding. The government's nuclear finance bill, known as the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill, aims to make the construction of new nuclear power stations more predictable for investors.
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