Energy companies are currently planning to build up to 16GW of new nuclear power capacity in the UK, with the first new reactors expected to be operational in the mid-2020s. This new generation of nuclear power stations will require a total investment of at least £60 billion.
The UK currently has 15 reactors with a total generating capacity of 10 gigawatts of electricity (GWe). These stations generate around a fifth of the UK’s electricity – yet all but one is scheduled to be retired by 2030. The exception is Sizewell B, the UK’s only pressurised water reactor (PWR), which began operations in 1995.
A government review of energy policy in 2006 gave the green light to a new generation of nuclear power. Planning and design certification laws were streamlined to support new build, but any new reactors must be wholly financed and built by the private sector with no direct subsidy.
According to a 2012 study from IPPR commissioned by EDF Energy, investment in new nuclear power stations could raise UK GDP by over £5 billion, create 32,500 jobs, and increase nuclear industry exports by up to £900 million.
Three reactor designs are now being formally considered for UK new-build: Areva’s EPR (originally the European Pressurised Reactor), Westinghouse’s AP1000, and Hitachi-GE’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR).
Both the EPR and AP1000 are Generation III+ PWRs, offering a range of safety, economic and operational improvements over previous designs.
The EPR has an output of 1600MWe. Four EPRs are under construction in Finland, France and China.
The AP1000 has an output of 1150MWe. Construction is underway for AP1000 reactors on two sites in China and two sites in the US.
Both PWRs have completed a generic design assessment (GDA) by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and Environment Agency. This assessment is intended to support the construction of a number of new nuclear power stations by approving a standard reactor design which can be built in different locations by different developers. Each build will still require a site-specific licence.
The Hitachi-GE ABWR began the GDA process in January 2013, following Hitachi’s purchase of UK developer Horizon Nuclear Power, and is due to complete in December 2017. Four ABWRs are already in operation in Japan.
The 1300MWe ABWR is a significantly different design to the Areva and Westinghouse PWRs, operating at lower pressures and temperatures but requiring much larger pressure vessels.
The Chinese Hualong HPR-1000 reactor is also being considered for UK development (see below) by China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN) and EDF. CGN plans to submit the design to GDA imminently, and is aiming for approval within five years.
See the ONR’s GDA pages for the latest information.