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Answering the big questions about new nuclear power stations

Sizewell B power station

EDF Energy plans to build four new nuclear plants in the UK.

Why does the UK need more nuclear power stations?

There are ten operational nuclear power stations in the UK, but nine of them are currently scheduled to shut down by the end of 2023. Some of these may continue operating after their scheduled shutdown date, provided the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is satisfied that this is safe. But when they do close, the UK will lose up to 10 million kilowatts (kW) of its current installed electricity generation capacity.

If this energy gap is not filled, the UK’s power stations may not be able to meet the population’s electricity needs. If it is filled with fossil fuel-fired power stations, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions will increase, and the country will be more vulnerable to fuel price fluctuations on world commodity markets.

Energy efficiency can help fill this gap. But the Government plans to reduce the UK’s dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions by encouraging greater use of electricity in powering transport and heating. So even if everyone is more energy efficient, the nation’s electricity needs are still likely to grow in the coming decades.

Why not other energy sources?

EDF Energy recognises the importance of a diverse mix of energy sources to meet the UK’s energy needs and address the issues of climate change, energy affordability and energy security. While the company continues to invest in renewable sources of energy, like wind, it believes the range of energy sources needed must include nuclear. A report prepared by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in 2011 indicates that nuclear power is the most affordable way of generating low-carbon electricity on a large scale.

Modern nuclear plants can run for long periods between closures for maintenance or refuelling, and the raw material for nuclear fuel is relatively abundant and inexpensive compared with fossil fuels. This means nuclear power can help ensure that the UK has a secure, reliable electricity supply for many decades to come.

Will these new nuclear plants be safe?

Yes. EDF Energy plans to base its four new plants on a design called a European pressurised water reactor (EPR). The EPR is a latest-generation plant with multiple safety systems.

The UK nuclear industry already has a strong, proven safety record. The safety regime that the new plants will have to follow is one of the toughest in the world, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The environmental impact of constructing, operating and finally decommissioning the power stations will be assessed and monitored by the Environment Agency.

Where will EDF Energy’s new nuclear reactors be built?

If the right investment framework is in place, the aim is to build two new plants at Hinkley Point in Somerset, and two at Sizewell in Suffolk. One reason these sites are considered suitable is that both are already home to nuclear plants, and have been for many years. This means that the geography is right, the local communities are already familiar with nuclear power stations, and much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place.

What difference will new nuclear plants make to the local community?

While the new reactors are being built, some impact on the local community is unfortunately unavoidable. Each plant will take a number of years to build. During this time thousands of workers will be needed on the site. This will create new local jobs, and an influx of workers from elsewhere could benefit local businesses, but there will be more traffic and demand for accommodation.

EDF Energy makes every effort to limit disturbance to local communities during this period. At Hinkley Point, for example, the company has applied for permission to improve roads, upgrade a wharf and construct a temporary jetty, to limit the impact of construction traffic on the local road network. Once construction is complete, each site will provide around 700 permanent and 200 contractor positions for at least the next 60 years.

Information sources

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