UK government advisers The National Infrastructure Commission have told ministers to back only a single new nuclear power station after Hinkley Point C in the next few years, because renewable energy sources could prove a safer investment.
The NIC said the government should cool down plans for a nuclear new build programme that envisages as many as six plants being built.
The commission, launched in 2015, said that a decade ago it would have been unthinkable that renewables could be affordable and play a major role in electricity generation. But the sector had undergone a “quiet revolution” as costs fell, it said.
Sir John Armitt, the NIC’s chairman, said: “[The government] say full speed. We’re suggesting it’s not necessary to rush ahead with nuclear. Because during the next 10 years we should get a lot more certainty about just how far we can rely on renewables.” He argued that wind and solar could deliver the same generating capacity as nuclear for the same price, and would be a better choice because there was less risk. “One thing we’ve all learnt is these big nuclear programmes can be pretty challenging, quite risky – they will be to some degree on the government’s balance sheet,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody’s pretending you can take forward a new nuclear power station without some form of government underwriting or support. Whereas the amount required to subsidise renewables is continually coming down.”
Armitt said he had no opinion about whether the next power station was the one Hitachi wanted to build in Wales, or one EDF Energy hoped to build in Suffolk. But the NIC’s report was unequivocal. It said: “Government should not agree support for more than one nuclear power station beyond Hinkley Point C before 2025. By that point we should be in better position on storage technology and [presumably will] continue to see a drop in price on renewables.”
The NIC said that by 2030 a minimum of 50% of power should come from renewables, up from about 30% today. New figures released by energy analyst EnAppSys show that renewables have already overtaken nuclear for electricity generation in the UK. Wind, solar and biomass power stations supplied 28.1% of electrical energy during April, May and June, with nuclear at 22.5%, the third quarter in a row that renewables have outstripped nuclear.