There are sufficient supplies of uranium available to power the UK's existing nuclear plants and planned new stations for the whole of their lifetime. However, nine of the UK's ten existing nuclear power stations are scheduled to close by 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 eventually they will need to be replaced.
Planning and building new nuclear power stations takes many years. Quite rightly, the public demands a high level of investigation and reassurance before the relevant independent bodies give the go-ahead to build new nuclear plants. For efficient cooling, nuclear power stations are best sited adjacent to a large body of water. The UK's extensive coastline presents no lack of opportunities, but clearly sites have to be chosen with sensitivity. Consequently, new UK plants are currently proposed only on sites already home to nuclear facilities.
Public acceptance is important to the expansion of nuclear energy in the UK. The accident which occurred at the nuclear plants at Fukushima in Japan has brought the safety of nuclear power stations into focus. Fully addressing these concerns is essential to the expansion and operation of nuclear energy in the UK.
UK nuclear power stations use uranium for fuel to generate electricity. If current rates of production and consumption were to remain constant, it is estimated that the world's known uranium reserves could last until the 2100s. Uranium is not a rare metal – the amount present in the earth's crust is roughly comparable to that of metals such as tin.
These are the quantity of supply challenges facing nuclear energy. Read about the possible solutions.