The high costs associated with the dismantling of nuclear power plants in the UK are raising concerns about the country’s energy policy. Although the British government remains committed to nuclear technology, the high costs of new reactors at Hinkley Point C and the growing expenses in the decommissioning process are becoming increasingly difficult to justify, especially in light of more cost-effective and sustainable alternatives.
The UK, like the United States and France, is a nuclear military power. Its successful commercial nuclear power generation was based on a strategic plan that included the construction and operation of nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, creating the necessary conditions for success in the industry. However, the cost of this success is now impacting British citizens.
The UK’s nuclear program was implemented between 1957 and 1995, with a total of 23 reactors built. These reactors were designed with a limited set of specifications that mainly focused on plutonium production or electricity generation. While this approach ensured efficiency and optimization of operations, it also limited the variety of designs and technologies used.
Today, the Hinkley Point C project, which involves the construction of two new EPR reactors, is facing significant delays and cost overruns. The reactors, with a combined capacity of 3.2 GW, were meant to be an example of the UK’s continued commitment to nuclear energy. However, the reality is that most of the existing reactors in the UK will be out of service by 2028, leaving only one reactor at the Sizewell site until 2035. These reactors have not lived up to industry claims of having a lifespan of 60 to 80 years.
The costs associated with dismantling these reactors, including the two reactors at Hinkley Point C, are astronomical. The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) official estimate as of late 2022 was £149 billion. However, energy policy experts like Professor Stephen Thomas from the University of Greenwich estimate that the actual costs could be as high as £260 billion. This translates to a cost of £6 billion to £10.4 billion per reactor, far exceeding previous industry averages.
These astronomical figures should cause national energy policymakers to pause and reflect. The costs will have to be paid in the future and are likely to be higher due to inflation. Meanwhile, alternative low-carbon electricity generation methods, such as wind and solar energy, have proven to be more cost-effective and efficient. In particular, offshore wind energy is significantly cheaper per gigawatt-hour (GWh) than nuclear energy. UK investments in interconnectors with European countries and projects like XLink also enhance its renewable energy capabilities.
While the costs of decommissioning wind and solar facilities can vary, studies have shown that they are considerably lower than nuclear decommissioning costs. For example, the US Department of Energy found that the costs of decommissioning wind farms were well below $200,000 per turbine.
In conclusion, the rising costs of dismantling nuclear power plants in the UK should prompt policymakers to reassess the country’s energy strategy. Investing in more cost-effective and sustainable alternatives, such as offshore wind and solar energy, presents an opportunity to transition to a greener and more profitable energy system, alleviating the burden on future generations.