The quantity challenge for nuclear energy

Uranium is found in sufficient quantities to fuel current and planned UK nuclear power stations for their lifetimes – but eight out of nice existing stations may close by 2028.

The challenge

Planning and building a new nuclear power station takes many years, and the public demands a high level of research and reassurance before the relevant independent bodies give consent.

For efficient cooling, nuclear power stations are best sited close to a large body of water. Our extensive coastline offers no lack of sites, but they must be chosen with sensitivity.

Public acceptance is vital to the expansion of nuclear energy in the UK. The accident at the nuclear plants at Fukushima in Japan has brought the safety of nuclear power sharply into focus. Fully addressing these concerns is essential to the expansion of nuclear as a UK energy source.

Nuclear power stations use uranium for fuel to generate electricity. If current rates of production and consumption remain constant, it is estimated the world's known uranium reserves could last until the 2100s. 

The solution

To reduce inefficiencies in the planning of new nuclear power stations (without compromising their regulation), the UK Government has changed the consent process or Generic Design Assessment (GDA).

The design for a proposed nuclear power station would be assessed thoroughly through the GDA and then licensed for use in the UK. The planning process will focus on the issues that are most important to the community close to proposed sites. The approval process for subsequent projects using the same design should also be quicker, without compromising safety.

To be effective and fair, these measures must be acceptable to the public, which depends on excellent communications between them, the nuclear industry and Government. In May 2011, HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations Mike Weightman published a report into the accident at the Fukushima plants in Japan. They found no fundamental weaknesses in the UK’s nuclear industry, but found it could become even safer by learning lessons from Japan’s experience. As a result of its recommendations, the UK nuclear industry will become even safer.

Uranium supplies

The World Nuclear Association believes only a small fraction of global uranium resources have been identified, and that further exploration could yield more.

We also have the potential to develop fast neutron reactors, which could extend the world's uranium resources up to 60 times by making more efficient use of them. Other sources of nuclear fuel are reprocessed and re-enriched spent fuel.