The UK’s new nuclear energy industry is potentially on course to be run by the French, Chinese and Russians – but all is still to play for, according to analysts.
With the UK Government’s electricity market reform as yet not set in stone for nuclear and all but one of the current reactor fleet due to be shut down by 2023, Gouri Kumar, senior analyst at Douglas Westwood, says the options are looking limited.
According to the World Nuclear Association, the UK has 16 operating reactors with 10 GW of capacity and producing about 18pc of the country’s electricity.
All but Sizewell B in Suffolk are due to be retired by 2023. The Department of Energy and Climate Change says, following a process setting out eight sites it found suitable for new nuclear, there have been expressions of interest for five sites, amounting to 16 GW of new capacity.
However, only one is subject of a planning application – EDF’s Hinkley Point, which is still awaiting a final investment decision – and two are up for sale (Wyfla in Wales and Oldbury) after Horizon consortium partners RWE and E.ON said they were pulling out of the UK market.
The Infrastructure Planning Committee was abolished in April, leaving the Planning Inspectorate with its job of assessing applications, to then give a recommendation to Parliament rather than make a decision itself.
The UK Government says 60 GW of new generation is needed by 2025, with an assumption 25 GW will come from renewables, leaving a gap of 35 GW to be filled by nuclear and either gas or coal power generation, which it is hoped would be supported by carbon capture and storage.
Ms Kumar says two parties are interested in a stake in Horizon, China’s state nuclear company and Russia’s state-owned Rosatom.
Neither of which are likely to leave the authorities entirely comfortable.
“Considering that all the rest of the nuclear power plants in the UK are owned by EDF, not having a national company involved is a big problem,” she said.
“The other thing is the electricity reform has not reached any major conclusions. Nuclear is a part of that and the industry was trying to get feed-in tariffs in the form of contracts for difference in nuclear.
“There is a big doubt whether it is a subsidy or not and should it apply to nuclear or not. The nuclear industry is saying there is no way forward unless it gets a feed-in tariff going forward. It is very much in the government’s court.”
She said E.ON and RWE were probably never going to be interested in UK nuclear again.
Meanwhile, the Scottish government retains its no new nuclear stance but has shown willingness to allow the life of Hunterston to be extended.
George Rafferty, chief executive of NOF Energy, an energy industry business development organisation, said: “Even though the Scottish Government have said no new nuclear build in Scotland, there are still a lot of options for Scottish companies to supply in to new nuclear build south of the border and also in decommissioning.
“New nuclear represents major investment over a 60-year life from construction to decommissioning. Of that something like 80% of the new build is outside of the nuclear island.
“We have been looking at transferable skills and technologies from oil and gas into nuclear and away from the nuclear island there are a lot of opportunities. Piping, design and engineering, valves, thermal protection and even ROVs are operating for oil and gas but also for nuclear.
“We also have to remember that we haven’t built any new nuclear for 30 years, so that supply chain needs to be re-built. There is also work in decommissioning in Scotland, at Dounreay.”
Scottish Enterprise says decommissioning of current UK civil nuclear liabilities, under the aegis of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) will cost an estimated £73billion and take many years to complete.
The bill for decommissioning Scotland’s Dounreay alone is expected to be £2.9 billion.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has a £3billion annual budget, about half of which is spent at Sellafield, where ageing plant and assets have deteriorated due to a historic lack of investment, and where remediation and repair work is often necessary before the task of decommissioning can begin, says the NDA.
Its approach has been to put control of decommissioning facilities into the hands of private consortia through a bidding process.
A competition is due to start later this year to appoint one of these so-called Parent Body Organisations for the 10 sites operated by Magnox and the two operated by Research Sites Restoration.
Another option being discussed are small modular reactors, but Ms Kumar said these were still at a very early development stage.
“The idea is that instead of a huge reactor produce 200-300MW off the shelf reactors,” she said. “It is being done in the US and are a few in the UK. Souther Korea is doing some work on it too. But it is still at a prototype stage.
“It will be some sort of development by 2015 with commercial possibly by 2020. We are still some way off.”
However, not all support the idea. The US’ Institute for Energy and Environmental Research has railed against claims smaller reactors would be less expensive, safer and produce less radioactive waste.
Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are being used to assess and recover the contents of first generation magnos storage ponds.
At Sellafield an ROV was used to recover a 12kg fuel rod from the bottom of a FGMSP – following weeks of testing and training.
Martin Leafe, head of FGMSP programme delivery at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, said: “This is a real breakthrough and paves the way to recover fuel rods that have become dislodged from their containers and to repackage them.
“The use of ROVs has allowed us to work remotely underwater in a radioactive environment.”