Stumbling blocks emerge for UK’s nuclear new build

14 February 2013
By Mark Venables
Mobile version
Share |
Hinkley Point has been earmarked for a new nuclear power station - but Centrica has decided not to take a stake

Hinkley Point has been earmarked for a new nuclear power station - but Centrica has decided not to take a stake

Despite news that Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy was pushing ahead with its nuclear plans January will be remembered as a harrowing month for Britain’s nuclear sector.

Centrica pulled out of a nuclear new-build scheme in the UK, the proposed underground waste storage site in Cumbria fell at the first hurdle, a report highlighted the escalating cost of storing nuclear waste and to cap it all a recruitment firm pointed to a yawning skills shortage in the sector.

Plans to build up to six new nuclear power stations took a step forward when the government announced an official assessment of the reactor design proposed for UK sites. 

Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy plans to develop new reactors at Wylfa in Anglesey, North Wales, and Oldbury in Gloucestershire following its acquisition of Horizon Nuclear Power towards the end of last year.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said ministers had instructed the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency to carry out a Generic Design Assessment on the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) Hitachi hopes to deploy.

“The ABWR is a proven reactor design, which has been constructed to time and budget at four locations in Japan, and is also licensed in the USA and Taiwan,” said Masaharu Hanyu of Hitachi. 

“We look forward to making sustained progress with the regulators in the months ahead.”

But before the flush of success had time to fade Centrica announced that it had scrapped its plans to build new nuclear power stations in Britain, dealing a fresh blow to the industry amid warnings that nuclear was turning into an economic nightmare. 

The company is retaining a 20 per cent interest in French firm EDF Energy’s eight existing nuclear power stations in Britain but will not now proceed with an option for a 20 per cent stake in the building of new reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk.

The company said the anticipated project costs in new nuclear had increased and the construction timetable had extended by a number of years.

“The withdrawal by Centrica is extremely unfortunate but symptomatic of the uncertainty that the delays in the Electricity Market Reform have introduced,” commented Professor Martin Freer, Professor of Nuclear Physics at the University of Birmingham and director of the Birmingham Centre of Nuclear Education and Research. 

“It is increasingly clear that the present approach to management of electricity production, where the market responds to signals from, and conditions set by, government is challenged at times when a step change is required in the transition to a low carbon electricity economy.”

That news followed publication of a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which showed that the “enormous” legacy of nuclear waste at Sellafield in Cumbria has been allowed to build up, with the cost of decommissioning the site reaching £67.5bn and no indication of when the cost will stop rising.

In January Cumbria County Council decided against studying the prospect of building an underground nuclear waste site in its area. 

Ministers will look at finding another area after councillors voted 7-3 against studying the possibility of having the £12bn facility in the region. 

“The government remains firmly committed to nuclear power as a key part of our future energy mix and to geological disposal as the right policy for the long-term, safe and secure management of higher-activity radioactive waste,” Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said in response. 

The government would now reflect on the process for selecting a site but it will not change it without further consultation, he said.

“The government’s position regarding prospective new nuclear power stations has been clear that there must be provision in the long-term for safe disposal of higher-activity waste produced by new nuclear power stations,” Davey added.

Even when the nuclear new-build plans start to bear fruit the UK faces a serious skill shortage in the sector that could hamper its growth.

A recent report from recruitment firm Randstad shows that the UK is already suffering skills shortages across many industries, and points out that 70 per cent of nuclear energy workers will have retired by 2025.

“Our projections are conservative but they still portray a worrying scenario for the country over the coming decades,” said Randstad chief executive Mark Bull.

“With an ageing population, we need to ensure we are open for business and welcoming talent from around the world to bolster our workforce.”

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1607

"As the dust settles after the referendum result, we consider what happens next. We also look forward to an international summer of sport."

E&T jobs

  • Chair in Integrated Sensor Technology

    The University of Edinburgh
    • Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh

    The University of Edinburgh is one of the world’s top 20 institutions of higher education.....

    • Recruiter: The University of Edinburgh

    Apply for this job

  • Principal Electrical Engineer - Power

    BAE Systems
    • Bristol, England / Cumbria, Barrow-In-Furness, England
    • Negotiable

    Principal Electrical Engineer - Power Join our Electrical Power team and help design the self-contained generation and distribution system for the Successor submarine - a new generation of submarine designed to carry the UK's independent nuclear deterrent

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Operations Supervisor (Mechanical/Electrical/Instrumentation)

    National Grid
    • England, Cambridgeshire
    • £33000 - £39000 per annum

    Operations Supervisor - (Mechanical/Electrical/Instrumentation) Salary: Circa £33k - 39k dependant on experience + vehicle and great additional benefits (share scheme, pension, potential bonus).Location: Wisbech - Cambridgeshire We currently have an excit

    • Recruiter: National Grid

    Apply for this job

  • Lead NDT Trainer

    BAE Systems
    • England, Lancashire
    • Competitive package

    Would you like to be involved with training UK and international teams in Non Destructive Inspection (NDI) to support the in service fleet (Typhoon Tornado, and Hawk)?

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Systems Design - Emerging Portfolio

    • Bristol
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   There are fantastic opportunities in Systems Design for engineers to work within Future Systems. These are highly visible, fast paced roles, in...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Metering Engineer

    Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
    • Teddington, United Kingdom
    • £24,109 - £27,961 plus EO Electronics PE of £8,090.00

    We are now looking for a Metering Engineer to deliver RD’s In-Service Testing (IST) scheme for gas and electricity meters.

    • Recruiter: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

    Apply for this job

  • Head of Operational Estates

    Premium job

    The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust
    • Shrewsbury, Shropshire
    • £46,625 to £57,640 per annum

    As an experienced Estates Manager, you will play a key role in helping to shape the future of the Estates service.

    • Recruiter: The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust

    Apply for this job

  • Engineering Project Manager - Electrical & Automation

    • York, North Yorkshire
    • c£45,000 + Car Allowance + Bonus + Excellent Benefits

    Nestlé Product Technology Centre in York currently has an excellent opportunity for an Engineering Project Manager

    • Recruiter: Nestle

    Apply for this job

  • Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) of Smart Building Solutions

    Premium job

    ETH Zurich
    • Zurich, Canton of Zürich (CH)

    The successful candidate is expected to develop a strong and visible research programme in the area of control and diagnostics of building systems

    • Recruiter: ETH Zurich

    Apply for this job

  • Process Controls Leader

    Premium job

    Phillips 66
    • Humber Refinery, South Killingholme, North Lincolnshire DN40 3DW
    • £60k - 75k plus extensive Compensation and benefits package, dependent upon experience

    Experienced Process Control Leader providing leadership and technical support for Oil Refinery. Extensive Compensation and benefits package.

    • Recruiter: Phillips 66

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶


Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T