A short discussion piece on nuclear power and its role in the UK's energy scene
With Britain's existing Nuclear Power Plants coming to the end of their lifespan, a nuclear revival may well be on the cards.
Tony Blair has warned that nuclear power should not be ruled out for the future, and Chancellor Gordon Brown believes that the only way to meet Britain's carbon dioxide emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol is to restart the country's nuclear programme. These comments reflect a growing international trend towards a reconsideration of the merits of nuclear power with countries across Asia and North America either considering or building new nuclear capacity. In Europe, Finland is building the first new European plant in recent years, with France due to follow suit now that Government approval has been granted for a new development.
Nuclear power currently comprises 23% of the UK's electricity generation, but all bar one of the UK's 13 nuclear plants are due to be fully decommissioned by 2020. This results in a problem of replacing this energy while continuing to curb fossil fuel emissions, in the face of a yearly electricity demand increase of 2% per year.
Whilst there has been significant growth in the renewables sector, it currently accounts for only 3.6% of UK's total electricity generation, with the government aiming to increase this to 10% by 2010. However, significant investment into the renewables sector will be needed, if it is to plug the gap left by the decommissioned nuclear power plants. As such, an argument has been raised that another generation of nuclear reactors is needed to buy time for developing renewable technology which, at present, is not up to the task of replacing current nuclear generation capacity.
In any event, the foreseeable future will hold interesting times as politicians tackle the question of how to resolve the imminent shortfall of electricity, amidst a backdrop of diverse public opinion where environmental and safety concerns often clash with energy demands. But a solution is needed, and soon, if the UK's power generation capacity is to be sufficient to satisfy growing demand whilst the current generation of nuclear reactors are laid to rest.