The UK needs new low-carbon electricity generation to replace current ageing plant, and to meet the commitment to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
With UK electricity demand likely to quadruple by 2050 as transport and heating are decarbonised, the UK will potentially need to quadruple its low-carbon generation.
The UK currently has six operational nuclear power plants, owned by EDF, with a total capacity of 6.9GW. In April 2022, the government set a target of 24GW of nuclear capacity by 2050, as part of its Energy Security Strategy.
In recent years, the UK nuclear fleet has generated around a fifth of the UK’s electricity, or around 65 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year, from eight sites. Seven of these sites are based around advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) built over the 1960s–80s, all of which are scheduled to be retired by 2030. Two – Dungeness B and Hunterston B – have already ceased generation and are being defuelled. Another, Hinkley Point B, is set to cease operations in summer 2022. Decommissioning of the AGR fleet will be managed by Magnox.
The other nuclear power station is Sizewell B, the UK’s only pressurised water reactor (PWR). Sizewell B began operations in 1995 and was initally scheduled to retire in 2035. EDF has announced plans to extend its life by at least 20 years.
For the latest information, see EDF’s page on its UK nuclear power stations.
Four gigawatt-scale reactor designs have been formally approved for UK new build: the Framatome EPR (originally the Areva European Pressurised Reactor), Westinghouse’s AP1000, Hitachi-GE’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), and the Chinese Hualong HPR1000.
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. Two EPRs are now under construction at Hinkley Point C in Somerset. EPRs are also under development or operational in Finland, France and China.
The AP1000 has an output of 1150MWe. AP1000s are under construction or operational at two sites in China and two sites in the US.
Both the EPR and AP1000 have completed 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 Hitachi-GE ABWR is a significantly different design to the Areva and Westinghouse PWRs, operating at lower pressures and temperatures but requiring much larger pressure vessels. The 1300MWe ABWR completed GDA in December 2017. Four ABWRs are already in operation in Japan.
The 1170MWe Hualong HPR1000 is a generation III PWR, currently being deployed at three sites in China. It completed GDA in February 2022.
The UK is also considering the development of small modular reactors based on Gen III+ technologies, with the first potentially online by 2030, as well as new designs of advanced modular reactors based on Gen IV technologies. The Rolls-Royce SMR formally entered GDA in early 2022.
See the ONR’s GDA pages for the latest information.