East of England poised to cash in on a nuclear future for UK
The future of UK-based nuclear energy may well depend on the participation of the East of England after Suffolk and Essex were highlighted by British Energy as preferred sites to host the country’s next generation of nuclear power stations.
British Energy has already invited global organisations to work in partnership on the new build projects and expects to make an announcement revealing further partner and site details by the end of March. “Sizewell and Bradwell are up there as favoured sites,” said British Energy spokesperson, Sue Fletcher. The region’s combination of skills and experience across the industry may yet prove to be a deciding factor as the sector’s new ramp up rapidly gains momentum following the UK Government’s recent announcement that nuclear was back in the energy mix. With three nuclear power stations, several off-shore oil rigs, the Bacton gas pipeline, a growing biomass sector and plans in place for several of the country’s largest offshore wind farms, as well as cutting edge technology in renewables and nuclear energy build and storage from both industry and academia, the region is cementing its position as England’s most important player in the power industry. The Government plans to publish a consultation on draft Strategic Siting Assessment criteria in March or April, ruling out unsuitable areas and establishing the framework for assessing the suitability of proposed sites, which it expects will focus on areas in the vicinity of existing nuclear facilities. British Energy, however, has long been progressing its studies into potential sites for new nuclear power plants, and following environmental feasibility studies and crucial grid connection deals, has picked Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex as its preferred locations alongside Dungeness in Kent and Hinckley, Somerset. Last November, British Energy, published a review by Halcrow of the engineering needs to protect British Energy’s eight sites across the UK from the possible longer term impact of climate change, based on scenarios anticipated by the Met Office in a far-reaching study. The conclusion was that flood defence and coast protection measures could be deployed to make replacement build a feasible option at all sites for the expected lifetimes of the replacement stations. However, further down the announcement was the news that it had entered into transmission connection agreements with National Grid for grid access from 2016 onwards at four sites it owns – Sizewell, Bradwell, Hinkley and Dungeness. Grid access is viewed by British Energy as an important constraining factor in siting: “The ability to connect replacement nuclear stations to the grid will be a relevant factor for nuclear and indeed any generation type. “Through these agreements British Energy has contracted the capacity needed for potential future nuclear development at these sites, subject to National Grid obtaining any necessary planning and other consents.” British Energy owns land it considers suitable for nuclear build next to Bradwell, which is currently being decommissioned, and next to Sizewell A, which is also being decommissioned, though the company never ran it. It continues to own and operate Sizewell B, the UK’s newest nuclear site to date, generating enough power for three million homes and expected to run until at least 2035. The UK Government’s new Nuclear White Paper and Energy Bill not only push the case for nuclear as a crucial player in the country’s efforts to produce low carbon energy that is secure and affordable, but intensify the pace at which renewables are expected to progress. As well as the three nuclear plants – two of which are being decommissioned – the region provides world leading storage expertise and in AVEVA has an infrastructure CAD company that is working on some of the world’s largest and cleanest new-build nuclear programmes. AVEVA chief executive Richard Longdon has long held the view that the UK will return to nuclear. His firm is working with Finland on its hugely efficient, state-of-the-art power plant and with France on a potential 38 new plants and sits pretty for a similar role in the UK. Although nuclear power has a low carbon output, is a proven technology and can increase the UK’s energy self-reliance, fears exist on safety and what is done with nuclear waste, in particular high level waste – an area in which the region again has world-leading expertise. The Government plans to use geological disposal – deep underground storage – well advanced in the US, Sweden and Finland. State-of-the-art welding technologies that will seal canisters that storing the waste in all three countries with an anticipated life span of 100,000 years are being pioneered by TWI in Cambridge. Further storage expertise is being led at the University of Cambridge in the Earth Sciences Department where Prof Martin Dove and Dr Ian Farnan have begun studying ways of harnessing natural radiation barriers like Zircon to safely encapsulating radioactive waste materials.