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A new united Nuclear Waste Service, Hinkley Point C and the pressure of Net Zero.

Today we’re discussing the UK’s efforts to manage radioactive waste and the Nuclear landscape the UK government is hoping to create as we move towards a greener energy future.


A new united front

At the end of Jan we saw the launch of Nuclear Waste Services, a new organisation bringing together a variety of waste management methods. Nuclear Waste Services incorporates the expertise of Radioactive Waste Management, Low Level Waste Repository and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority group’s Integrated Waste Management Programme.

In effectively managing the fallout of nuclear energy it is hoped that support will grow for a larger nuclear energy future- a trust exercise in the complete lifecycle of nuclear reactors. It is promised that the formation of NWS will enhance the service of waste management through efficiency, speed and the lowering of costs.

Chief executive Corhyn Parr says: “Our new organisation brings together a huge amount of expertise and capability in dealing with radioactive waste across the UK. It also maintains in full the commitments made to the GDF programme, to the Low Level Waste Repository, and to the communities we operate in.

Nuclear Waste services aims to prioritise Nuclear safety and their mission, is “Protecting people and the environment by managing the UK’s nuclear waste innovatively and sustainably.”

So what does the future look like?

Nuclear power has come under fire in recent years- it’s expensive and comes with the dangers of working with hazardous materials. However, it may provide a lifeline out of the current crisis, with experts supporting the idea that “Nuclear power may be the key to least-cost, zero-emission electricity systems”.

Rishi Sunak and the wider team at No. 10 have given nuclear a central role in the plan to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. At present, gas provides about 40% of the UK’s electricity, wind power 20%, nuclear about 16%, and solar 4%. According to the 2020 Energy White Paper, the government intends as far as possible to replace fossil fuels with “renewables, nuclear and hydrogen”

But with all but one of the UK’s 13 current nuclear reactors due to close by 2030, through decommissioning process how is nuclear going to take on this important role?

Large nuclear projects are expensive and uncertain, and the UK is not willing to build them itself, or able to convince companies to do the work. Hinkley Point involved paying the state-owned French firm EDF a fixed price far above the going rate; the project is late and over-budget.

The UK’s current hope lies in smaller reactors that would be much cheaper and more financially viable. Rolls-Royce is designing small modular reactors (SMRs), which would supply 0.47 gigawatts (GW) of energy (compared with Hinkley Point C’s 3.2GW); but each would be a relatively affordable £2.2bn (against £23bn for Hinkley Point). In theory these smaller more manageable projects should only take 3-4 years to build and with the time pressure of net zero by 2050 this is surely a plus.

Energy sovereignty is an obvious positive

One main advantage of increasing our nuclear provision would be energy security. Although not as green as wind and solar, Nuclear could provide a reliable power source not affected by the weather. Nuclear reactors here on UK soil would also eradicate a reliance on foreign energy suppliers and variable fuel prices (the nuclear fuel used is a relatively small portion of the overall cost).

They could also benefit Britain’s heavy industries, such as glass and aluminium production, which require 24/7 power. Rolls-Royce argues that a thriving SMR industry could create up to 40,000 skilled jobs, create valuable exports and add £100bn to the value of the UK economy. It would also help with “levelling up”, since much nuclear expertise is in the North.

If you’ve got any thoughts on the future of nuclear hear in the UK we love to chat. Get in touch here!

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