Country profile: United Kingdom

Summary figures for 2016

The following information is from the NEA publication Nuclear Energy Data, the annual compilation of official statistics and country reports on nuclear energy in OECD member countries.

Number of nuclear power plants connected to the grid
Nuclear electricity generation
(net TWh) 2016
Nuclear percentage of total electricity supply
United Kingdom
OECD Europe
OECD Total
1 877.5
NEA Total
2 061.1

Country report

Recent developments in UK policy on nuclear energy

The policy of successive UK governments has been that nuclear energy has a crucial role to play in the search to transition to a low-carbon society, while the population, society and natural environment should be protected from harmful levels of radioactivity through appropriate national measures – whether derived from European Council (EC) directives and regulations, international agreements or domestic legislation.

Some aspects of the radioactive waste management policy are devolved to the national administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Legislative and regulatory changes

In December 2013, the Energy Act 2013 was enacted, which included measures to facilitate the building of a new generation of nuclear power stations in England and Wales and placed the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) on a statutory basis. The establishment of ONR as a public corporation, with responsibility for holding the nuclear industry to account on behalf of the public in a fully transparent way, is seen as important to address the anticipated regulatory demands of an expanding nuclear sector. Creation of the ONR brought regulation of nuclear safety, regulation of the transport of civil radioactive materials, regulation of security compliance and the UK Safeguards Office into a single body.

Future development of nuclear energy

On the basis of current scheduled closure rates, most of the UK's existing nuclear power plants will have shut down by 2030. Successive UK governments have supported the position that nuclear power is a low-carbon, affordable, secure, dependable and safe means of electricity generation that can sustainably increase the diversity and security of energy supply. These governments have taken a series of facilitative actions to encourage nuclear new build, and industry has set out proposals to develop 18 GW of new nuclear power at six sites in the United Kingdom.

The generic design assessment (GDA) is one of the facilitative actions set out in the Nuclear White Paper 2008 and is being undertaken by the ONR and the Environment Agency. The GDA is a voluntary process that allows regulators to begin consideration of the generic safety, security and environmental aspects of designs for NPPs prior to applications for site-specific licensing and planning consents. Any reactor deployed in the UK must meet the UK's robust and independent regulatory requirements. This includes meeting design safety requirements via the GDA process. The APR1000 (to be used by NuGen at Moorside) completed the GDA process in March 2017, and the advanced boiling water reactors (ABWR) (to be used by Horizon at two sites: Wylfa and Oldbury) is expected to complete the GDA by the end of 2017. The HPR1000 (proposed for use at Bradwell) entered the GDA process in January 2017.

The Scottish government has made clear it will not grant planning consent to any forthcoming proposal to build new nuclear power plants in Scotland under current technologies, though it recognises that lifetime extensions for the pre-existing operational power plants could help maintain security of supply while the transition to renewable and alternative thermal generation takes place.

Industry has set out proposals to develop 18 GW of new nuclear power at six sites in the UK, broken down as follows:

The UK government decided to proceed with Hinkley Point C in September 2016, signing contracts with NNBGenco, including directing the Low Carbon Contracts Company to offer a contract for difference for Hinkley Point C. Key terms include a 35-year "contract for difference", and a "strike price" of GBP 92.50/megawatt-hours (MWh) (2012 figures). EDF expects the plant to be operational in 2025.

For new nuclear build, Section 45 of the Energy Act 2008 requires prospective nuclear operators to submit a funded decommissioning programme (FDP) for approval by the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The UK government published FDP statutory guidance in December 2011 to assist operators in developing their programmes. The purpose of FDP is to ensure operators set aside sufficient funds to cover the cost of decommissioning and waste management, including their share of the costs for geological disposal.

The government received an FDP submission from NNBG in March 2012, and discussions were concluded in October 2015 whereby the FDP for Hinkley Point C was approved by the UK government.

Developments in waste management policy

The Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) White Paper, published in 2008, set out a framework for implementing geological disposal of UK higher activity radioactive waste (HAW) through working in partnership with communities potentially willing to host a facility. Publication was coupled with an invitation to communities to express an interest in entering discussions about the siting process to host such a facility.

A further White Paper in 2014 "Implementing Geological Disposal" updated and replaced (in England and Northern Ireland) the 2008 White Paper, setting out a renewed overarching policy framework for implementing geological disposal and identifying initial actions for the intended developer (Radioactive Waste Management Ltd [RWM], a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) to support the process for siting a geological disposal facility (GDF), and providing greater levels of information and clarity on key issues for prospective host communities.

The 2014 White Paper notes that other long-term waste management options could arise in the future as practical alternatives to geological disposal and that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and RWM will continue to review appropriate solutions which may have the potential to improve the long-term management of the UK's radioactive waste.

In May 2015, the Welsh government adopted geological disposal as its policy for the long-term management of higher activity radioactive waste (HAW), joining the UK government-led programme together with the Northern Ireland Executive. The Welsh government considers that geological disposal can only be delivered in Wales on a voluntary basis and in December 2015 issued a further policy statement setting down outline arrangements for working with potential volunteer host communities for a geological disposal facility. The Welsh government intends to consult further on arrangements for engaging with volunteer host communities before issuing a more detailed policy statement.

The Scottish government published a distinct policy for higher activity radioactive waste (HAW) in 2011. This policy stipulates that the long-term management of HAW should be in near-surface facilities. Facilities should be located as near to the site where the waste is produced as possible. For safety reasons, developers will need to demonstrate how the facilities will be monitored and how waste packages or waste could be retrieved. All long-term waste management options will be subject to robust regulatory control.

In 2016, the Scottish government published an Implementation Strategy, expanding on the framework provided by its 2011 policy, to allow waste management decisions to be taken to ensure the policy is implemented in a safe, environmentally acceptable and cost-effective manner.

Source: Nuclear Energy Data 2017

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Last reviewed: 6 November 2017