Nuclear too expensive and not needed

Energy scientists show obsolescence of nuclear power in an all-renewable future

From Claverton Energy Group

Sizewell C is much more expensive and slower to build than proven and reliable alternative low carbon solutions says an energy think tank that examined nuclear projects in the United Kingdom. Even the unfinished twin reactors at Hinkley C can’t compete with renewables.

Baseload generators such as nuclear power plants are not needed in an all-renewable future and their use will almost certainly increase overall costs to consumers says an elite Claverton Energy Group of experts. Professor Mark Barrett, from University College London (UCL), who has modeled the comparative costs of nuclear and renewable power, using hour-by-hour wind and solar data with 35 years of weather data,  said:

“Nuclear power is more expensive and slower to build than renewables, particularly offshore wind. 7 GW of wind will generate about 40% more electricity than Hinkley at about 30-50% of the cost per kWh and will be built in half the time. Neither wind nor nuclear plants operate all the time, so both will need backup. Modeling shows the total cost of renewable generation to be less than nuclear and to be just as able to provide continuous power even with wind and solar droughts.”   

Nuclear power is more expensive and slower to build than renewables, particularly offshore wind. (Photo: Nicholas Doherty/Unsplash)

This detailed modeling of the entire heat, power and transport system in the UK, has been carried out by a number of top-flight university researchers and shows that:

  • The continuing fall in wind and solar energy costs, along with cheaper storage of heat and power means that an entirely renewable and highly reliable power supply as a replacement for fossil fuels for heating and transport through electrification is available to the UK at a lower cost than any alternative, even when wind and solar droughts (i.e. periods of low wind or solar) or imported fuel hiatus are considered.
  • It is a myth to claim that nuclear energy is needed to provide baseload power (baseload is simply the minimum power level on the grid).  This power can be provided by any suitable mix of generators including variable wind and solar if backup sources are provided.
  • Because nuclear cannot readily be turned off for economic reasons, its presence on the grid limits the amount of much cheaper renewables that can be used, as nuclear would have to take precedence over renewables – thus they increase the total cost.
  • Renewable electricity can be used to drive negative emission technologies so as to balance remaining emissions from hard sectors such as aviation and cement making these zero carbons.
  • A baseload power source of any kind, but typically nuclear, is NOT needed to provide baseload power demand (i.e. the power demand that is continuous 8760 / 24/7). Hydrogen-fueled generators + wind and solar + storage can do this but at a lower cost.
  • Successive BEIS Chief Scientific Advisers have not briefed ministers correctly on this important point and it is often wrongly reiterated by the BBC and other media e.g. The Economist – “Politicians need to tell voters that their desire for an energy transition that eschews both fossil fuels and nuclear power is a dangerous illusion”   How to fix the world’s energy emergency without wrecking the environment | The Economist  The Economist is simply not correct here.
  • Researchers have simulated the entire power demand including electrical vehicle demands, shipping fuel demand, along with building heating energy, for up to 35 years of hourly weather data (which included several wind and solar droughts/deficits), and using computer models found the cheapest mix of plants. 
  • The programs automatically tried a huge variety of different mixes of wind, solar, nuclear, heat and power storage, insulation levels, heating systems, district heating, heat pumps, interconnection to Europe — 15 different system elements. The analysis includes the costs of the different sources and elements and repeatedly rejects nuclear from the mix as it increases costs without increasing reliability. 
  • In fact, nuclear power in the UK and Europe has proven to be unreliable, and the nuclear waste problem is essentially unsolved in the UK. French nuclear is currently on 50% available.
  • During high wind and solar surpluses electricity is sent to storage in batteries or thermal stores heated by large heat pumps, and to electrolyzers to make hydrogen. 
  • During wind and solar deficits, heat, and power are withdrawn from the stores as required, and the stored hydrogen or ammonia created from the electrolysis of wind and solar can be used in generators to also produce power and heat.
  • During winter peak demands with high winds and solar, all power can come from these renewable resources and surplus go to stores.
  • During low solar and wind (wind and solar droughts), energy is withdrawn from stores.
  • Since wind and solar are so much cheaper in capital cost and operating cost, even if the attendant costs of storage are included, adding nuclear makes the whole mix of plant and its operation more expensive.
  • Wind and solar can be built in around 4 years and then function reliably, (albeit varying output with the wind and sunshine) whereas nuclear is notoriously likely to be many years late and over budget. 
  • Hinkley C is now 10 years late and many recent reactors have had to be taken offline due to faults that take a long time to address – the Chinese version of the EPR went offline for over a year after its start-up just over 3 years ago. 
  • In the simulations, natural gas and electric heating are largely replaced by either a) individual house heat pumps or b) larger heat pumps and district heating both of which have similar costs.
  • The simulations show that hydrogen heating for buildings is roughly twice as expensive as a) the individual heat pump solutions and b) district heating with heat pumps.
  • David Andrews, C.Eng, M. Inst Energy, who was an invited expert on power generation for the EU’s Energy Research Labs, said: “It is clear that the government should drop any future plans for nuclear energy such as Hinkley, as it takes far too long to build, is unreliable, and above all, a modern renewable-based system does not actually need baseload power generation.  Research shows all our power, including the baseload power, is provided more cheaply by renewable energy with heat and power storage.” 

Professor Mark Barret, from UCL who has been involved in much modeling of the comparative costs of nuclear power, said:

“Our careful modeling utilizing 35 years of weather data shows that nuclear power is more expensive and slow to build than renewables.  The Hinkley contract ‘Hinkley Point C CfD provides a Strike Price for the developer of £92.50/MWh (2012 prices)’. Inflation 2012-2022 is about 30% so the Hinkley strike price in today’s money is about £120/MWh. Hinkley’s initial construction work started around 2015 and is due to start generating perhaps in 2026-2027 – 10 or more years’ build time. 

Solar in the UK has far greater potential than nuclear. (BedZED eco village outside London. Photo by Tom Chance/BedZED/Creative Commons)

“A recent offshore wind capacity auction of 7 GW resulted in a strike price of £43/MWh (in today’s money) to be built in 5 years and operating in 2027. BEIS project wind costs to continue falling. 

“This latest 7 GW of wind will generate about 40% more electricity than Hinkley at 30-50% of the cost per kWh and will be built in half the time. Neither wind nor nuclear plants operate all the time, so both will need back-up, though the wind will need more than nuclear. Assuming the latter operates reliably, our modeling shows the extra cost to the wind of the backup is significantly below the alternative cost of nuclear. Renewables do not pose waste and security problems as do nuclear.”

David Andrews, C.Eng. M.Inst Energy, Chair of the Claverton Energy Groups said: “Sizewell C is an ill-advised investment because proven renewables, wind, solar, storage and low carbon wind drought back-up in combination when analyzed in detail are much cheaper and more reliable than nuclear energy.”

This article was originally an email release announcing the findings of research. The Claverton Energy Group is one of UK’s premier independent Energy Think Tanks and is comprised of over one hundred highly experienced engineers, scientists, and academics who have worked in the energy field (nuclear, renewable energy, low energy housing, heating, transport, electrical grids, power stations, energy politics, etc.) often for their entire careers. 

Headline photo of the current Sizewell nuclear site on the Suffolk, UK coast by Mark Seton/ Commons.

The opinions expressed in articles by outside contributors and published on the Beyond Nuclear International website, are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Beyond Nuclear. However, we try to offer a broad variety of viewpoints and perspectives as part of our mission “to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future”.
 

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