Nuclear phase out in UK

Sizwell B er det siste atomkraftverket som er bygd i Storbritannia. Det tok syv år og kostet over 11 milliarder kroner å bygge verket.
Foto: Twi.ita

Publish date: January 28, 2003

Written by: Erik Martiniussen

Wind will replace nuclear power in Great Britain as British ministers rule out more nuclear power plants.

Accoding to The Times of London, wind power is set to replace nuclear power in Great Britain. Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, told a Cabinet committee meeting on Thursday that renewable energy sources are the way forward. The ministers agreed though to review the decision if wind farms and solar power fails to keep up with electricity demand.

Too expensive
There are still 31 reactors operating in the UK. All together they produce 25% of the country’s electricity needs. The oldest reactors, the Magnox-reactors, are scheduled to close before the end of 2010. Britain’s newest reactor, a single pressure water reactor at Sizewell B, will close by 2024.

The British government has been working for a long time on an Energy White Paper, expected to be published in the next few weeks. The decision not to replace the country’s ageing nuclear power plants will form the centrepiece of this Paper.

Cabinet members are divided on the need for more nuclear power. Brion Wilson, the Energy Minister, is arguing in favour of more nuclear power, but the Treasury has good reasons to be sceptical about the cost-benefits.

Britains largest nuclear energy producer, British Energy (BE), was on the brink of bankruptcy the last year. BE, which owes creditors £1bn, is being kept afloat by a £650m emergency government loan which runs out on March 9—the deadline set by the European commission for submitting an agreed restructuring plan. BE was privatised in 1996, but the government is now under pressure to put it back under administration.

The other British nuclear company, the state owned British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL), is also struggling with financial problems. The company’s annual balance sheet for 2001 disclosed a deficit amounting to as much as £1.9bn, which make up the greatest deficit in the company’s history. The total costs of the company’s clean-up operation are estimated to be £40.5bn.

By establishing a Liabilities Management Authority, the government will transfer £7.1bn in liabilities to the British taxpayer, and the Treasury is understood to be sceptical about financing more nuclear power.

Will support wind
It has long been speculated what kind of energy resources will replace the nuclear power plants, which will be closed in the coming years.

Today’s news is the first to signal that nuclear power will be phased out. Such a decision will be a blow for BNFL, which has invested large amounts of money campaigning for their new reactor design Westinghouse’s AP600.

A recent MORI poll proved that wind is popular—with 72% of respondents preferring it to nuclear. Now the British government also votes for renewable energy sources.

According to the Times, the Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt, now argues that Britain has to do more to exploit its rich resources of onshore and offshore winds. New planning laws would also make it easier for more wind farms to be built.

According to The Guardian, the Energy White Paper won’t provide any help to the nuclear industry either. Speaking during the second reading of a bill designed to underwrite BE in the event of it going into administration, energy secretary Brian Wilson said: "I would like to make it clear that the Energy White Paper will not contain measures that are likely in the government’s view to have a material impact on the financial position of British Energy."

It is also likely the nuclear industry will not be given any exemption from the national electricity trading arrangement.