New nuclear power station planned for the UK


Computer generated image of Hinkley Point C

The UK's first new nuclear station in 20 years will be built in Somerset, the government has agreed.

Hinkley Point C, which will start operating in 2023, will be the first plant to be developed since Sizewell B started generating electricity in 1995.

Politicians say the plan will help the UK in its aims to have cheaper, low-carbon energy.

Critics say that it will end up costing bill-payers more money, while others worry about safety and the environment.

What are the costs?

George Osborne (L) talks with Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture general manager Guo Liming in front of a nuclear reactor under construction at Taishan, Guangdong province
Image caption George Osborne visited a nuclear station construction site in China recently

Building nuclear stations is very expensive. France's EDF Energy, who are leading on Hinkley Point C and want to build another plant as well, are expecting to spend £16 billion on both.

For the first time, the government is not subsidising the cost with taxpayers' money. Instead they have promised a "strike price" of £92.50 per megawatt hour (Mwh).

This means if the wholesale price of electricity falls below this price EDF can get the difference by charging customers more but would have to give money back if it the wholesale price went above £92.50.

The current market price of electricity is about is about £45/Mwh.

Is there other foreign investment?

David Cameron at Hinkley Point B

In addition to France leading the project, China will also be investing money in the station.

While Prime Minister David Cameron said the deal "underlines the confidence there is in Britain", critics said bill-payers' money will end up supporting other countries.

Dr Paul Dorfman, from the Energy Institute at University College London, said: "It is essentially a subsidy of between what we calculate to be £800m to £1bn a year that the UK taxpayer and energy consumer will be putting into the deep pockets of Chinese and French corporations, which are essentially their governments."

Meanwhile, campaigners have used the example of leaks at locations like Fukushima in Japan - to show the damage that could be caused to the environment if things go wrong.

The plant was badly damaged following an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

How does nuclear energy work?

Turbine hall

Radioactive minerals such as uranium are obtained by mining.

Electricity is generated from the energy that is released when the atoms of these minerals are split (fission) in nuclear reactors.

Nuclear stations provide a reliable amount of electricity while producing relatively low amounts of carbon dioxide, however radioactive nuclear waste must be disposed of carefully.

Exposure to radioactive material can cause health problems, including increasing the risk of developing cancer.

What is the history of nuclear energy in the UK?

Sellafield site
Image caption There is a nuclear station at Sellafield in Cumbria

The UK was one of the first countries in the world to supply electricity to consumers from nuclear stations.

There currently working sites at places including Dungeness in Kent, Hartlepool in County Durham and Torness in East Lothian.

In 1957, the Windscale fire at what is now known as Sellafield in Cumbria, became the worst nuclear disaster in British history.

Following the fire, where contamination was released in the local area, the sale of milk from nearby farms was banned for a month.

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