Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment, at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said in response to the UK Government decision to guarantee the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant:
“This development is welcome news and long overdue. Nuclear is set to play a central and vital role in the UK’s energy future.
“Although the financial costs of nuclear power seem high, with the upfront cost of Hinkley Point C over £16 billion, this power station will provide and modernise the diversification we so badly need in ensuring the UK’s lights stay on.
“Nuclear is currently one of the least CO2-intensive ways to generate base-load electricity. It is a vital part of the electricity mix we need in addition to gas-generation and renewables. At present, there is no viable alternative that will enable us to meet our emission targets.
“It is positive news that the Government is investing to secure energy supplies in the UK, however, it is important to consider that different technologies will have different total whole life costs. Considered within these costs are land use, developing a skills base, materials, labour, production, environmental impact, waste disposal and decommissioning. It is also critical that investments, such as this create opportunities beyond power supply in the long term development of precision engineering roles and economic benefits to local communities.
“Government now needs to push forward with the development of other nuclear power sites, in places like Wylfa and Oldbury as well as other types of nuclear, like Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). SMRs present a lower cost option, with comparatively straightforward construction and, potentially, a more attractive investment proposition. They would be factory-manufactured and assembled on site, and likely cost in the region of £1-2 billion.
“Whilst the development of a new nuclear power station is positive news, the Government must encourage significant investment in the whole nuclear fuel life-cycle. Investment in research and development to understand further the nature of radioactive waste, the potential for further energy production both heat and power and the opportunities for reducing radioactive half-life are all vital in developing a safe nuclear industry. Concerns over the disposal and long-term management of these wastes must also be addressed, with proper testing for geological disposal of radioactive wastes taking around 20 years. The Government must also take steps to secure potential sites for disposal with long-term testing strategies, without which nuclear power generation will continue to leave a significant waste challenge for future generations.”