For UoM Policy Week I was involved in an event called ‘Powering the Northern Powerhouse’. This was a hypothetical scenario in which energy policy was devolved to the Northwest and the think tank ‘Potentia North’ was tasked with implementing an energy strategy. Four proposals based on current research were presented to the public, to spark thought and discussion on different ways to power the region, with the opportunity to vote for a preferred option at the end of the session. I put forward the nuclear option, proposing that the Northwest become energy self-sufficient through large-scale investment in nuclear power.
To give some background, the UK relies on nuclear power to provide 21.5% of its electricity, 51% from coal and gas combined, with renewables and oil making up the rest (Figure 1, Department of Energy & Climate Change 2015).
With a number of nuclear reactors nearing the end of their lifetime, and the need to move away from fossil fuels I think that in order to sustain the energy demands of the country as they are, investment in nuclear power is vital to the UK energy mix. The key thing about nuclear (despite being secure, affordable and low carbon) is that it’s flexible, unlike low carbon renewables, where output can be easily managed according to demand. Although we can’t just rely on nuclear energy, it forms the ideal ‘baseload’ energy source to replace fossil fuels in the future, and avoid the intermittency of renewables.
Government is already backing new build nuclear (16 GW) to form part of the UK’s future energy mix (HM Government 2013). One of the 11 proposed reactors is at Moorside (close to Sellafield), which could power roughly 6 million homes. To make up the shortfall of roughly 1 million more homes in the region, I included deployment of Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology at Heysham, Lancashire. SMRs are small, simply designed and allow scalable power output, which all contribute to lower capital costs than your average nuclear power station (World Nuclear Association 2015). Westinghouse has recently promoted deployment of its SMRs in the UK, and is actively looking for investment partnerships (World Nuclear News 2015). This is just one idea for how nuclear could be a great energy investment for the Northwest.
One of the main arguments I gave for specifically this region to invest in nuclear power, was that it’s already a hub for nuclear industry expertise with a long history of developing, managing and supplying nuclear programmes. That’s all for an industry that really isn’t that old. Investment in nuclear power would secure the future of existing industry infrastructure, and retain the associated skilled jobs as more than 80% of the work involved with new build projects could be provided by UK companies (Nuclear Industry Association 2015). It doesn’t stop at new build either; there are already supply chain opportunities for all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle. China and India have already expressed an interest in learning from the waste management and decommissioning challenges experienced by the UK, most of which have been faced by Sellafield (Department of Energy & Climate Change 2012). This demonstrates the real demand for exporting the region’s nuclear experience, and that it is an extremely valuable asset.
Investment in nuclear power would be an investment for the long-term, but it would bring huge benefits to the regional (and national) economy, and such an investment could be fundamental in ‘Powering the Northern Powerhouse’.
Hollie Ashworth is a PhD Student at The University Of Manchester. @HollieAshworth1
Department of Energy & Climate Change, 2015. Energy Trends section 5: electricity. Electricity Statistics. Available here
Department of Energy & Climate Change, 2012. The Nuclear Supply Chain Action Plan.
HM Government, 2013. Nuclear Industrial Strategy: The UK’s Nuclear Future.
Nuclear Industry Association, 2015. Facts and Information for Nuclear Energy. Available here [Accessed October 12, 2015]
World Nuclear Association, 2015. Small Nuclear Power Reactors. Available here [Accessed November 4, 2015]
World Nuclear News, 2015. NuScale Sets its Sights on the UK. New Nuclear. Available here [Accessed November 4, 2015]