Nuclear energy in the UK
The UK had the first reactor producing electricity for civil use at Calder Hall at Windscale (now Sellafield) in 1956. Britain developed its own design of graphite-moderated, gas-cooled reactors, which were quite unlike the Pressurised Water Reactors used in most other countries. The first generation of these were the Magnox which were designed as "dual-use", producing electricity for the national grid but also able to produce Plutonium for nuclear weapons. All these reactors have now closed and are being decommissioned.
The second generation were the "Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor" (AGR) most of which are still in operation. These are electricity-producing only.
The UK also has a single PWR at Sizewell B. This was intended to be the first of a new fleet to be built during the 1980s and 90s but was the only one actually built.
The UK's operating nuclear plants are owned and operated by the French-owned energy company EDF. Their operational status can be seen on EDF's website. (Note that AGR power stations comprise 2 reactors each, but the PWR-based Sizewell B has one reactor driving two turbines, which can operate independently.)
Wikipedia's article Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom has a great deal of detail on the history, politics and economics of nuclear energy in the UK.
The World Nuclear Associations's pages on Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom and Nuclear Development in the United Kingdom give a very comprehensive account of various aspects of nuclear energy, policy, and technology in the UK.
By the mid-2010s there were plans for building new power stations to various different designs in different locations. These were discussed by Euan Mearns in his Energy Matters blog on 4 Aug 2016.
However by late 2020 plans for Westinghouse reactors at Moorside, and Hitachi at Wylfa had been abandoned. At the time of writing construction of two EPRs at Hinkley Point C are under construction, an application for 2 more at Sizewell C is awaiting approval, there are plans for 2 more EPRs, plus SMRs and Advanced Modular reactors at Moorside, and an application for two Hualong 1s at Bradwell B.
Industry heavyweights demand major push on new nuclear power stations Luke Dicicco; News and Star with the Cumberland News; 5 Dec 2019
Heavyweights in the nuclear industry have demanded a major programme of new power stations if the ambition to cut all CO2 emissions by 2050 is to be realised.
Speaking at the Nuclear Industry Association’s (NIA) annual conference in London on Thursday, figures from the industry body along with developers stressed the importance of nuclear’s role, alongside renewable energies, in meeting the Net Zero target.
Without new nuclear power stations, they argued, the UK risks embedding a major reliance on carbon-emitting gas fired power stations for generations to come.
The calls comes as the country’s nuclear new build programme remains in a state of limbo.
Plans for a £15 billion power station at the Moorside site in West Cumbria collapsed in November last year after Japanese giant Toshiba pulled the plug on developer NuGen after failing to find a buyer to take on the project – which would have created thousands of jobs and generated around seven per cent of the UK’s energy needs.
Just a few months later Horizon Nuclear shelved plans for power stations at Wylfa Newydd, Anglesey, and Oldbury, Gloucestershire, due to wrangles between its developer – Hitachi – and the UK government on financial support for the two projects.
It leaves just Hinkley Point C in Somerset as the only one of several proposed stations to reach the construction stage, although its developer, EDF Energy, has warned the development could cost £2.9bn more than expected and be delayed by up to 15 months due to “challenging ground conditions”.
The project has also been criticised for the high strike price consumers will pay for the energy it produces once operational, which, at £92.50 per megawatt hour, is more than double the price for wind power.
The NIA also stressed that there is “no time to be lost” on clarifying new financing rules for new nuclear power. The Government recently concluded a consultation on adapting the Regulated Asset Base Model (RAB) – already used in the UK to finance electricity, gas, telecoms and transport infrastructure projects – to bring down costs and encourage investment from developers currently wary of the eye-watering up front costs of building new power stations.
The NIA’s chief executive, Tom Greatrex, said “We have to grow the industry’s contribution to a low carbon economy. The independent Committee on Climate Change said earlier this year that we need a variety of technologies including nuclear power to reach the UK’s Net Zero emissions target by 2050”.
“This is a proven, dependable, technology with lower lifecycle CO2 emissions than solar power and the same as offshore wind.
“It is also an important economic engine for the UK, creating high quality direct and indirect employment for around 155,000 people.”
“The countries and regions which have most successfully decarbonised, like Sweden, France and Ontario in Canada have done so by relying on nuclear. You are not serious about tackling climate change if you are not serious about nuclear.”
The NIA has also said that public opinion has showed “continued and consistent” support for an energy mix that includes nuclear, with 72 per cent of respondents to a YouGov in October agreeing it was needed to ensure a reliable supply of electricity.
Nuclear power current provides 20 per cent of the UK’s electricity, although the existing fleet of power stations is set to close over the next decade.
And recent figures have highlighted Cumbria’s major role in the UK’s civil nuclear industry. It supports 14,213 jobs in the county, mainly based at the Sellafield site, which equates to around a third of the nation’s workforce.
Other speakers at the event – which was attended by more than 200 delegates – included NIA chairman, Dr Tim Stone; Stuart Crooks, managing director of Hinkley Point C; Duncan Hawthorne, chief executive of Horizon Nuclear Power and Zheng Dongshan, chief executive of CGN UK.
At last year’s conference, CGN UK’s chief operating officer, Rob Davies, described Moorside as a “smart site” when asked if the Chinese state-owned company would be interested in developing a large-scale nuclear power station there.
CGN UK is understood to have been in the running to take on NuGen after Toshiba signalled its intention to divest from nuclear. But it lost the race to become preferred bidder to Korean utility Kepco, who were later stripped of the status for taking too long to trash out a deal amid uncertainty over financial support from the Government.
CGN is already involved in the Hinkley Point C development and has said it will look to bring forward the Bradwell B development in Essex forward to fill the gap left by the demise of NuGen.
See also Hinkley Point C
Britain's Nuclear Secrets: Inside Sellafield will show viewers the reality of atomic power Daily Mirror; 23 Jul 2015
- Physicist Jim Al-Khalili will present Britain's Nuclear Secrets: Inside Sellafield and aim to tell the story of the country's often controversial nuclear industry
See also KEPCO APR1400
First look at new Moorside nuclear plant Andrew Clarke; Times & Star; 27 Apr 2016
- This is the first glimpse of what the new £10 billion Moorside nuclear power station could look like. NuGen - the firm behind the plans for Moorside - has published the artist's impression ahead of 28 public events being held across the county to give people the chance to have their say. Plans for the three-reactor site on land next to Sellafield - and its associated accommodation and transport links - are likely to have widespread impacts.
STOP MOORSIDE: "BIGGEST NUCLEAR DEVELOPMENT IN EUROPE" Marianne Birkby; 38 Degrees
NuGen confirms Toshiba commitment to Moorside World Nuclear News; 14 Feb 2017
- Toshiba Corp is committed to Moorside despite announcing today it would reduce its exposure to reactor construction projects outside Japan, the head of its UK joint venture, NuGeneration, has said. The Japanese electronics conglomerate reported a net loss of JPY390 billion ($3.4 billion) in the year to March 2017 and said it would book a JPY712.5 billion ($6.3 billion) loss on its US nuclear unit.
- NuGen, of which Toshiba owns 60% and France's Engie 40%, plans to build a nuclear power plant of up to 3.8 GWe gross capacity at the site in West Cumbria, using AP1000 nuclear reactor technology provided by Westinghouse. Toshiba, which bought Westinghouse in 2006, warned in December last year that it might have to write off "several billion" dollars because of the purchase in 2015 of US construction firm CB&I Stone & Webster.
Korean energy firm rescues UK's Moorside nuclear power project Adam Vaughan; The Guardian; 6 Dec 2017
- A state-owned South Korean energy firm is to take over construction of a troubled nuclear power station planned in north-west England, in a significant boost for the UK government’s nuclear ambitions.
- Kepco has been declared the preferred bidder for the NuGeneration consortium, which looked doomed earlier this year after the Japanese owner Toshiba was hit by writedowns and the eventual bankruptcy of its US nuclear subsidiary.
An Overview of the KEPCO APR1400 Euan Mearns / Andy Dawson; Energy Matters; 18 Dec 2017
- There have been two major developments in the progress of UK nuclear new build in the last two weeks or so – the announcement that KEPCO is now preferred bidder for the Moorside project in Cumbria, and the completion of the GDA (General Design Approval) process by Hitachi’s UK-ABWR design. It therefore seems a good time to set out a quick review of the key features of each design and specifically any adaptations to UK regulatory requirements. This article covers the KEPCO APR1400 and complements the article on the Chinese Hualong 1 design that was published on 14 November.
See also Hualong One
UK to start approval process for Chinese nuclear reactor at Bradwell Nina Chestney; Reuters; 10 Jan 2017
- The British government has asked nuclear regulators to start the process for approving a Chinese-designed reactor for a proposed plant in Britain, expected to be one of the first new plants in decades. General Nuclear Services (GNS), an industrial partnership between French utility EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation(CGN), hopes to use the design at a new nuclear station planned to be built in Bradwell, Essex. CGN intends to make a number of investments in Britain's nuclear power sector, most notably the new Hinkley Point C project in southwest England which was approved by the government last September.
- China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) and EDF, through their joint venture company General Nuclear System Limited (GNS), commenced the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process for the UK HPR1000 in January 2017.
- GNS has been established to act on behalf of the three joint requesting parties (CGN, EDF and General Nuclear International) to implement the Generic Design Assessment of the UK HPR1000 reactor; more information on the each of these companies and the structure of GNS can be found on the About us page. For practical purposes GNS is referred to as the ‘UK HPR1000 GDA Requesting Party’.
- In November 2017, the Regulators concluded that the information submitted by GNS during Step 1 is sufficient to allow the start of Step 2. Step 2 formally commenced on 16 November 2017 and is planned to last approximately 12 months. The targeted timescale for the UK HPR1000 GDA process is approximately five years from the start of Step 1.
- This website has been set up to publish information on the HPR1000 nuclear reactor design that is currently undergoing assessment by the UK nuclear regulators – the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency. You can find out more information about the process on our GDA process page.
- Within this site you will find information on the HPR1000 reactor technology, design, safety and environmental features. You can also access the range of technical documents that will be submitted to the regulators throughout the process in our Documents library.
- As part of the GDA process we are now inviting you to comment on the HPR1000 reactor design and the regulatory submissions that we make to the regulators.
- The Preliminary Safety Report (PSR) was submitted to the regulators as part of Step 2. The PSR sets out a high level overview of the safety case, the environment case and the security claims for the proposed nuclear reactor design.
- The main objective of the PSR is to provide sufficient information for the regulators to carry out Step 2 GDA and the scope of the report was agreed with the regulators during Step 1.
- The PSR sets the initial structure of the Pre-Construction Safety Report (PCSR) which, through Steps 3 and 4 of the GDA process, will provide the arguments and evidence to substantiate the safety case claims.
China’s “Hualong 1” passes the first stage of the UK GDA process Euan Mearns / Andy Dawson; Energy Matters; 24 Nov 2017
- As almost all readers of the blog will be aware, a team of EdF and China General Nuclear (CGN) have proposed the construction of a Chinese designed nuclear station at Bradwell, in Essex. On Thursday of this week, the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation announced that the design proposed for the station -the “HPR1000”, originally known as the “Hualong-1” has successfully completed the first, preparatory stage of the Generic Design Approval (GDA) process. This appears to have been completed on time, or perhaps a few weeks early.
- While we shouldn’t over-state the importance of this particular transition – GDA is a four stage process, in which stages 2 & 3 are where the great majority of the detailed evaluation of the design from a safety perspective is undertaken – it is important in that it’s the first point at which the developers have to publish reasonably detailed data on the design. That data is available here.
- This piece is intended to give an overview of the design, highlighted particular strengths and weaknesses that may affect the GDA outcome, and giving a comparison against the virtues and vices of the other contenders for UK build.
It was planned to build a power station based on the Hitachi ABWR at Wylfa but the project was suspended in January 2019 and officially cancelled in September 2020
Wylfa: Hitachi 'withdraws' from nuclear project BBC News; 15 Sep 2020
Plans for a £15-£20bn nuclear power plant in Wales have been scrapped.'
Work on the Wylfa Newydd project on Anglesey was suspended in January last year because of rising costs after Hitachi failed to reach a funding agreement with the UK government.
Isle of Anglesey council said the company had now confirmed in writing it is withdrawing from the project.
Plans for major nuclear power station in Wales win green light Adam Vaughan; The Guardian; 14 Dec 2017
The Office for Nuclear Regulation and two other government bodies gave the green light on Thursday for the Japanese reactor design for Horizon Nuclear Power’s plant at Wylfa, marking the end of a five-year regulatory process.
Attention will now turn to financing the Hitachi-backed project on the island of Anglesey, which was the site of Britain’s oldest nuclear plant until it closed two years ago.
During a visit by UK ministers to Japan last December, it emerged that London and Tokyo were considering public financing for Wylfa. This would be a significant break with the UK government’s previous approach.
Hitachi has already spent £2bn on development. Last week the consortium said it needed a financial support package by mid-2018 or it could stop funding development.
Japan’s Toshiba has bowed out of the race to build nuclear plants in the UK, confirming last week that a South Korean nuclear firm had been chosen to buy its venture to build a plant in Cumbria.
If Horizon is successful with Wylfa, it hopes to build a second new nuclear power station at Oldbury in Gloucestershire. The plants will use Hitachi’s advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR), which has been approved for use at Wylfa.
The Welsh plant would have a capacity of 2.7GW, similar to the 3.2GW of the nuclear power station that EDF is building at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
£40 million to kick start next-gen nuclear technology Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy press release; 10 July 2020
- Government invests £40 million to develop the next generation of nuclear energy technology, creating R&D and manufacturing jobs across the UK
- funding will develop technologies to supply low-carbon heat, hydrogen, and other clean energy for decades to come
- building new, low-carbon industry will support the UK’s clean economic recovery as we move towards net zero emissions by 2050
The UK government today announced £40 million of funding to unlock thousands of green jobs by developing the next generation of nuclear energy technology.
Part of this funding will support 3 Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) projects, which are far smaller than traditional nuclear plants and use intense heat generated in nuclear reactions to produce low-carbon electricity. They can be used at remote locations thanks to their size, and can produce enough energy to power anything from a small village to a medium-sized city.
£30 million of funding will speed up the development of 3 AMR projects in Oxfordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire and drive them closer towards supplying low-carbon energy to the nation. The remaining £10 million will be invested into unlocking smaller research, design, and manufacturing projects to create up to 200 jobs.
Minister for Business and Industry, Nadhim Zahawi, said:
"Advanced modular reactors are the next step in nuclear energy and have the potential to be a crucial part of tackling carbon emissions and climate change.
"Today’s investment will immediately create new jobs in Oxfordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire. But through this vital research, the technology could also create thousands more green collar jobs for decades to come."
Today’s funding will ensure the technology is more attractive to private sector investors, supercharging the development of the industry and creating supply chains feeding future modular reactor developments. The successful AMR projects, awarded £10 million funding each, are:
- Tokamak Energy, Oxfordshire – working with industry partners and research establishments including Oxford University to develop fusion reactors
- Westinghouse, Lancashire – developing a lead-cooled fast reactor, a type of fission reactor
- U-Battery, Cheshire – working on a small high temperature gas-cooled fission reactor
On top of funding the AMR projects, the government will invest £10 million into turbocharging the industry - £5 million of that will be invested in British companies and start-ups, developing new ways of manufacturing advanced nuclear parts for modular reactor projects both at home and abroad. Regional projects that have secured funding so far include:
- U-Battery, Concept Development and Demonstrator for U-Battery AMR Off-Site Modular Construction in Capenhurst - £1.1 million
- Jacobs, Evaluation Technologies for Advanced Manufacturing Qualification in Warrington - £181,431
- Laser Additive Solutions, SonicSMR, in Doncaster - £826,633
- Cavendish Nuclear, AWESIM in Sheffield - £1.3 million
- Sheffield Forgemasters, Large scale thick section electron beam welding - £8 million
- Rolls-Royce Submarines, SAS in Derby - £259,989
- Rolls-Royce Submarines, FAST in Derby - £1.4 million
- Nuclear Energy Components, PITCO2C, in the Hope Valley at Bradwell - £378,000
- Createc Technologies, MW-CT in Whitehaven - £314,595
- Cammell Laird, FAITH in the Wirral - £5.1 million
- EDF Energy, in Gloucester, £1,373,095
The remaining £5 million will be put to strengthening the UK’s nuclear regulatory regime -– ensuring it remains one of the most robust and safest in the world as the UK looks to develop and deploy advanced nuclear technologies.
Recent research has shown that the UK’s entire nuclear industry could contribute £9.6 billion per annum to the economy and support 130,000 jobs by 2050, as well as creating significant export potential for AMR technology. AMRs also provide the possibility to diversify the UK’s low-carbon energy mix by producing heat for industry and zero-carbon hydrogen, and have already demonstrated the potential to stimulate private investment.
A significant part of the UK’s nuclear research takes place in a belt running from Cumbria to North Wales – a region that could be set to benefit from the nuclear industry’s enormous potential for job creation, in part thanks to this investment.
Notes to editors
Today’s announcement – an important part of the Nuclear Sector Deal - is an important step forward in meeting the aspirations in the UK’s Industrial Strategy.
This builds on government plans to support tens of thousands of green jobs with a package of measures worth over £3 billion, unveiled by the Chancellor on Wednesday to power up the nation’s workforce and protect the environment.
Funding for the AMR and advanced manufacturing projects is provided through the BEIS £505 million Energy Innovation Programme. Find out more from our Funding for nuclear innovation page.
The exact funding of the Advanced Modular Reactor projects breaks down as:
- Tokamak Energy Ltd, Advanced Modular Fusion – The Spherical Tokamak, £9,999,999
- Urenco Ltd, U-Battery, £9,999,195
- Westinghouse Electric Company UK, An Innovative Nuclear Solution based on Lead Fast Reactor Technology, £9,998,387
The £5 million funding provided to the UK Nuclear Regulators will enable them to continue to engage with all stakeholders on how they can progress future regulatory assessment that keeps pace with technology.
We have extended the operating lives of all of our Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) over recent years, confident that our continued investment keeps nuclear safety as our overriding priority. Without these extensions, four stations (eight reactors) would have closed by now.
As the older stations reach the point where further extensions are not viable, we operate with decommissioning in mind, preparing for the next phase when we remove the fuel and prepare for decommissioning. What determines when defuelling should begin? Our decision is centred on the condition of irreplaceable components such as the graphite core and boilers.
Our extensive research and development programme gives us confidence to justify safe and reliable operations over extended life.
Maintaining boilers on AGRs
On an AGR nuclear power station boilers sit within the concrete outer layer of the reactor. This means that they cannot be replaced, so a lot of effort goes into maintaining them and ensuring they continue to do their jobs throughout the life of the power station.
At the bottom of each boiler, large gas circulators pump high-pressure carbon dioxide gas through the graphite core and up through the fuel channels, where the gas picks up the heat generated by the nuclear reaction. As it passes through the boiler, the gas gives up its heat to the water in the boiler tubes. This forms superheated high-pressure steam which is piped away to drive the turbines.
The boilers operate at very high temperatures and require an extensive and careful monitoring and maintenance regime to ensure that they are operating efficiently. Each site has teams of highly trained engineers who are responsible for their maintenance and operations.
Alongside normal maintenance work, a pro-active programme of detailed technical assessments, modelling and inspection is carried out, backed up by significant investment. The programme will continue through the lifetime of the stations to ensure the boilers operate reliably.
Our Sizewell B station, a pressurised water reactor, has a different arrangement with a steam generator through which hot gas flows. This heats water in thousands of tubes, creating very hot steam which then turns the turbines.