It’s coming home: nuclear’s coming home
Far be it from us to jump on a bandwagon, but as the dust settles on some fantastic Euro 2020 performances from the England men’s team, we can’t help but reflect on the notion of civil nuclear returning to one of its points of origin, and we’re very happy to be bringing it home.
It’s clear that civil nuclear power isn’t what Baddiel, Skinner, and the Lightning Seeds had in mind, but much like the beautiful game, low-carbon, clean nuclear electricity can trace roots back to the UK’s shores. The world’s first commercial nuclear power plant was Calder Hall, which opened in 1956, at Windscale in Cumbria; part of what is now called the Sellafield site.
This led to another ten Magnox-class nuclear power stations being built in the UK with 26 units between them, including the original Bradwell Power Station in 1962. With an installed capacity of 220MW, the first-generation Calder Hall was some way short of the 2,200MW planned at the third-generation Bradwell B power station. Those early plants led the way, establishing a clean, reliable and safe means for producing low carbon electricity, decades before the reality of climate change highlighted an increasingly urgent need for more nuclear energy across the globe.
The UK has played a major role in civil nuclear development. Born out of the international weapons programme during and after the second world war, it has resulted in nearly seven decades of peaceful application of nuclear power which, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute, has prevented over 1.8m air pollution-related deaths and 64bn tonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.
The UK nuclear industry accounts for 2.3bn tonnes of carbon abatement over its 65 years, involving the Magnox-class, the later Advanced Gas Cooled-class reactors, and the addition of the pressurised water reactor at Sizewell B in 1995. And if you thought we were done with the football analogies, you’d be wrong: in all that time, and with all that carbon abated across all of our power stations, the UK’s entire stock of higher-level radioactive waste could fit, on one level, on a quarter of a football pitch.
The World Nuclear Association notes that, “the history of nuclear power … starts with science in Europe [and] blossoms in the UK and USA with the latter’s technological and economic might…” The hiatus in development of new nuclear since is now being answered, the WNA concludes, with a growth spurt in east Asia, delivered in part by Bradwell B’s shareholders CGN and EDF. CGN is in fact the world’s largest developer of nuclear power stations and is returning the history of civil nuclear full circle by proposing its third generation pressurised water reactor here at Bradwell B.
Of course, we now know that fossil fuel burning is heating the planet, bringing us perilously close to irreversible climate change. Net zero carbon needs nuclear, to support the intermittency of renewables with firm, secure and low-carbon power, allowing us to move away from reliance on hydrocarbons when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.
When it comes to climate change there isn’t much time to lose. We’re in extra time and the penalties do not bear thinking about.