Report says nuclear vital for UK net zero plans

Article by Amanda Doyle

THE UK’s Energy Systems Catapult, an independent centre designed to accelerate the UK’s clean energy transition, has released a report assessing how nuclear energy can support decarbonisation to reach net zero by 2050.

The Nuclear for Net Zero report found that around 50 GWe of nuclear power may be needed by 2050, but that the cost of nuclear power will need to reduce before nuclear can fully play its part in the UK’s net zero strategy. Cost reduction can occur if commitments to capacity increases are made, rather than individual unconnected projects. Without nuclear power, achieving net zero will be difficult as it will require substantial land use change for bioenergy, and vast quantities of renewable energy.  

Nuclear power could be a cost-effective way to implement district heating schemes, which could play an important role in decarbonising heating. In particular, small modular reactors (SMRs) could fulfil this role as they can be deployed close to the centre of demand.

Advanced plants with the next generation of nuclear reactors capable of very high temperatures could be used for the cogeneration of electricity and hydrogen. An advanced plant could be co-located on industrial sites to take advantage of the hydrogen production, electricity, and district heat. Using nuclear for hydrogen production would have greater energy density, lower costs, and less land usage than conventional methods such as steam methane reforming or electrolysis.

The report found that policy support is needed over the next five years for SMR development as well as the development of next-generation reactors. Another potential policy approach would be to launch 10 GWe of additional capacity for new reactors, such as those currently under construction at Hinkley Point, in parallel to developing new types of reactors. The additional capacity could potentially start operations between 2028 and 2035 if it is committed to at the right time.

Duncan Hawthorne, Chief Executive of Horizon Nuclear Power, commented on why the company is trying to get plans for Wylfa Newydd plant in Wales restarted: “An operational Wylfa Newydd will provide enough clean electricity to meet all of Wales’ power demand, domestic and industrial. This would, effectively, make Wales’ electricity supply net zero by the early 2030s, delivering on the UK Government’s pledge decades early, and also helping to answer the Welsh Government’s declaration of a climate change emergency.”

Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Reaching net zero by 2050 is a massive national endeavour – and this detailed, expert report demonstrates that all but removing polluting gas will need low carbon sources of power to massively expand. Nuclear is a significant and integral part of that mix for the future.

“Costs can be reduced through repeat build and new construction techniques – but also, and most significantly, with a different approach to financing. It is imperative the government get on and conclude their review of this, so the ‘no regrets’ option highlighted by the Energy Systems Catapult can make progress.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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