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13 November 2014

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You are in: Suffolk > Places > Sizewell > Sizewell & the nuclear future

Sizewell A and B

Sizewell A and B

Sizewell & the nuclear future

Following its Energy Review, in January 2008 the government made the formal decision to allow a new generation of nuclear power stations to be built in Britain. It meant British Energy could apply to build Sizewell C.

The old Sizewell A magnox nuclear power station, and most of its sister plants (including Bradwell in Essex), are in the process of being decommissioned. Sizewell B (a pressurised water reactor plant) started generating electricity in 1995, and it'll end its life in 2035.

Nuclear plants generate 20% of the UK's electricity.  The government is deciding whether we should build more power stations here or increase our reliance on imported power.

Sizewell B entrance

The Department of Trade & Industry's Energy Review began in November 2005 and it's concluded that Britain needs a mix of power plants, including nuclear, as well as a commitment to alternative and more efficient forms of energy.

In a Commons statement on the Energy Review in July 2006, industry secretary Alistair Darling said: "The government has concluded that new nuclear power stations could make a significant contribution to meeting our energy policy goals.

"It would be for the private sector to initiate, fund, construct and operate new nuclear plants and cover the costs of decommissioning and their full share of long term waste management costs."

British Energy's Martin Pearce & Mark Gorry

Sizewell manager Mark Gorry (right)

"Nuclear does mean we can generate electricity without carbon emissions. It does provide a consistency of energy which wind power cannot."

The threat to gas supplies posed by Russia and the Ukraine's spat in 2006 seemed to work in the British nuclear industry's favour - how reliant can we be on other countries when we're already becoming a net importer of oil and gas?

Speaking in 2006, Sizewell B's former station director Mark Gorry believes nuclear is the only option: "The waste is safe.  All the spent uranium oxide used at this site has been kept on site in water pools.  They're about a third full, but political decisions need to be made about storing waste off-site in deep, underground rock caverns in metal casks.  Finland has created its storage facilities, and I wouldn't have any worries about building one here.

"Technically, we're able to deal with it. If you stand next to our pool here, you'll be exposed to less radiation than you would on a plane flight.  It's a matter of finding a suitable site which is acceptable to everyone."

As a result of the government's 2008 decision, British Energy applied to build another plant on the Suffolk coast.

The anti-nuclear argument

However, for the anti-nuclear lobby the case isn't that clear-cut.  Liam Carroll of Bungay is a member of the 'New Nuclear? No Thanks!' lobby group: "The problem of nuclear waste is that no-one in the history of the industry has ever got rid of it.  The fact that it lasts for hundreds of thousands of years means we can't predict what effect putting it in the ground will have.

"At what point does the containment break down and the waste enter the water supply? If it was that easy, why isn't Sizewell putting it in the ground already? Their water pools need constant cooling because, and there is scientific dispute about this, the waste could heat up and evaporate.  If the fuel rods got hot enough, or the pool drained for whatever reason and came into contact with the air, we could have a meltdown and something akin to Chernobyl.  

"The safety risks may be small, but if something goes wrong,  it goes badly wrong."

Ness Point turbine, Lowestoft

Ness Point, Lowestoft

Carbon emissions

Back at Sizewell B, Mark Gorry says nuclear is still the most viable way of generating electricity: "In terms of the mix of energy, the base should be nuclear because it has very little greenhouse gas emissions.  France's electricity is 80% nuclear and they have 58 reactors producing some of the cheapest power in Europe, which we import."

There's also the history of worldwide nuclear accidents, a possible terrorist threat and the taxpayer-subsidised cost of nuclear energy.  2006 is the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Mark Gorry says huge lessons were learnt: "I don't believe anything like that would happen again. 

"Technical lessons have been learnt and advances have been made.  Sizewell B is a very safe plant - we put huge effort into safety.  I wouldn't stand here and say we'll never have a problem, because that would be complacent, but I am confident."

Alternatives

Aside from individuals cutting down on power use, the government says it's committed to cutting UK carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050 with 'progress' by 2020.  Launching the Energy Review, the Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks says we are all part of the problem: "I am determined that we make the connection between this review and the energy we consume in our everyday lives.

"30% of energy is used in our homes and the plasma TV generation is increasingly packing those homes with consumer electronics, domestic appliances and gadgets, often left needlessly on standby. This squanders more than £740m worth of energy and results in over four million tonnes of excess carbon dioxide emissions every year, significantly contributing to climate change."

The anti-nuclear lobby insists the whole focus is still too far away from energy conservation. Liam Carroll says we're going to have to change the way we live: "Wind farms will become cheaper and we're lagging behind other European countries in the UK.

"Most UK electricity gas or coal-fired power stations waste 55-70% of the heat produced - it goes up the chimneys.  Scandanavia's taken the lead in capturing this waste to heat houses - even whole estates.

"Study after study shows this is the way forward. Woking Borough Council in Surrey has shown that this can be done. The town is almost totally self-sufficient by using photovoltaics (solar panels) and other efficiency measures and Ken Livingstone has said he wants to follow their lead in London.

"Energy companies are going to develop advice services which will be able to come into our homes and show us where to make savings.  Smart meters will be able to turn the lights, freezer or fridge off, because they don't need to be running all the time."

Sizewell's future

It's thought Sizewell C would be built to take advantage of the existing skills-base and because the local community is used to having a nuclear power plant as a neighbour. 

An Ipswich-based consultancy company 2C has a website looking to get local views properly represented (use the weblink on the right).

Whether pollution can be reduced, energy-use cut and energy-efficiency improved without a big voluntary or involuntary change in our lifestyles remains to be seen.

Mark Gorry has moved on to work at British Energy's Heysham 1 nuclear power station in Lancashire. Since he left, Brian Dowds took over as station director at Sizewell B.

In April 2009, the government included Sizewell on a list of 11 sites which it granted initial approval for. The government wants the first new reactors to be operational by 2018.

last updated: 23/07/2009 at 11:45
created: 06/07/2006

Have Your Say

Is Sizewell C the only realistic answer?

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

steve
The UK only produces 2% of the world's CO2 so shaving a little off this with new nuclear won't reduce the impact of climate change on those of us living in Suffolk. We need countries like China and India to reduce their emissions, but they don't have access to the necessary skills and materials, so they'll just carry on burning their cheap, plentiful coal. However, the UK could help these developing nations to reduce emissions by proving that renewable energy can be made to work. Unfortunately the present obsession with nuclear means that renewables, along with supporting infrastructure such as smart grid and storage, aren't getting the attention they need.

josh
yes build it

Ian
Having lived my childhood in the shadow of Sizewell I am completely AGAINST anymore nuclear reactors. We as a country are wasteful when it comes to electricity use and we need to concentrate on cutting down, not building more dangerous monstrosities on the Suffolk coastline!! Does the leak at Sizewell A not convince people, or do we have to wait until we are all dying of cancer?

ken
hi.i used to work a sizewell b, when will they start c thanks ken.

dawud
yes because it will give off a lot of energy with little resource and is just as affective as burning coal and it gives off little waste

barry child
yes,we do. who'll be crying in ten years when our electricity is rationed

Chris Hurlock
Sir,Heard the great news today on the BBC news, Sizewell has been choosen as one of the next nuclear power stations to be built.I for one am all for it!! Bring it on ASAP!!It will brimng jobs to Suffolk for some time, enrich the economy in the area. The infrastructure is there so it would be a waste of resources not to build one. We DO NOT need a public enquiry, the last one lasted too long, so all's been said then. Those who complain only have to look across the North Sea, the Belgian and French coasts are bristling with them, we also buy our electricity from the French too!!Congratulations!! lets hope that we have C and D built at Sizewell.Good luck!Chris

D. Bird
renewable energy does not produce enough energy, coal, gas, etc cause a lot of pollution and nuclear does not produce any carbon emisions. the infrastructure is already there for a C site so it is the best and most realistic option

Eve Ousby
How anyone can believe that nuclear is the answer, or even part of the answer is beyond me. Of course, there are problems with the reliability of renewables, but with several different methods of harvesting nature's energy, we can eliminate frequent blackouts.Renewables can easily supply the world with more than enough energy, through wind, solar, wave, tidal and geothermal. There is no need for anymore nuclear power stations if the government invests in renewable energy sources.After all, do we really want our future to carry a toxic sign?

Bill Hyde, DFH, C. Eng, FIET, retired Elec Supply
Yes. In anticyclones, winds can deliver less than 5% of their rated power for a fortnight, several times a year. We dont want carbon, solar is zero after dark, not enough hydro or tidal sites. I's cheaper, see France. "Waste", burnt in fast reactors will fuel us until 2100, per Sir David King, retired Govt Chief Scientist.

MR I R RICHES
ITS THE ONLY REALISTIC OPTION LOOK AT FRANCE WHO WE HAVE TO LOOK TO FOR ENERGY WHEN OUR GRID FAILS SO WE HAVE TO GO AHEAD WITH NEWCLEAR ENERGY REMEMBER CANDELS & LAMPS I DO NO THANKS

MR I R RICHES
ITS THE ONLY REALISTIC OPTION LOOK AT FRANCE WHO WE HAVE TO LOOK TO FOR ENERGY WHEN OUR GRID FAILS SO WE HAVE TO GO AHEAD WITH NEWCLEAR ENERGY REMEMBER CANDELS & LAMPS I DO NO THANKS

Bridget cousins
absolutely not. small-scale wind, solar and hydro systems should be possible now. and has anyone investigated the carbon footprint involved in BUILDING Syzewell C??

Peter Fisk
I believe that Nuclear is part of the answer. the U.K in my opinion should be looking into various methods of electricity production. As not all energy sources are a reliable source, as the technology in all these forms of electricity production has not progressed enough, for example wind turbines do not work constantly as they do not work if there is not enough wind and even if there is too much of a stong wind. so it is my opinion Nuclear power stations should be built as the U.K cannot begin to think of reley upon using renewable sourses such as wind turbines as the technology is not reliable enough as well as this Nuclear Power stations provide the energy when provided however the waste produced by them does pose a problem and i believe that further Nuclear research into how this could be could be done either by disposal or by finding uses for the waste.

ywain prior
It's long overdue..it will bring many local jod's..well done MR Brown you something right at last.!!

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