Energy companies are currently planning to build up to 16GW of new nuclear power capacity in the UK, with the first new reactors expected to be operational in the early 2020s. This new generation of nuclear power stations will require a total investment of at least £60 billion.
The UK currently has 16 reactors with a total generating capacity of 10 gigawatts of electricity (GWe). These stations generate around a sixth of the UK’s electricity – yet all but one will be retired by 2023. The exception is Sizewell B, the UK’s only pressurised water reactor (PWR), which began operations in 1995.
A government review of energy policy in 2006 gave the green light to a new generation of nuclear power. Planning and design certification laws were streamlined to support new build, but any new reactors will be wholly financed and built by the private sector with no direct subsidy.
According to a 2012 study from IPPR commissioned by EDF Energy, investment in new nuclear power stations could raise UK GDP by over £5 billion, create 32,500 jobs, and increase nuclear industry exports by up to £900 million.
Both the EPR and AP1000 are Generation III+ PWRs, offering a range of safety, economic and operational improvements over previous designs.
The EPR has an output of 1600MWe. Four EPRs are already being built in Finland, France and China.
The AP1000 has an output of 1150MWe. Construction is underway for AP1000 reactors on two sites in China.
Both PWRs have undergone a generic design assessment (GDA) by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and Environment Agency. This assessment is intended to support the construction of a number of new nuclear power stations by approving a standard reactor design which can be built in different locations by different developers. Each build will still require a site-specific licence.
The final report on the two PWR designs was published in December 2011. Both were granted interim acceptance, although there were still some outstanding issues in both designs. See the ONR’s GDA pages for full details.
The ONR and Environment Agency closed the final issue on the EPR in December 2012, and have granted a Design Acceptance Confirmation and Statement of Design Acceptability. Westinghouse has said it will not address the outstanding issues on the AP1000 until it secures a UK customer.
The Hitachi-GE ABWR began the GDA process in January 2013, following Hitachi’s purchase of UK developer Horizon Nuclear Power, and is now in the third phase (due to complete in late 2017). Four ABWRs are already in operation in Japan, with four more under construction in Japan and Taiwan.
The 1300MWe ABWR is a significantly different design to the Areva and Westinghouse PWRs, operating at lower pressures and temperatures but requiring much larger pressure vessels.