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Two planned nuclear power stations in the UK are

Mon, 04/02/2012 - 6:23am
New Scientist

The after-effects of Japan's megaquake and tsunami continue to be felt. Two planned UK power stations have become the latest victims of the anti-nuclear sentiment that followed the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant last year. However, renewable technologies are unlikely to benefit.

German utility companies RWE and E.ON have pulled the plug on a joint project to build nuclear reactors at Wylfa on the island of Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire. The firms blame a shortage of cash following the German government's decision last year to abandon nuclear power.

"There is no doubt that the withdrawal is a symptom of a much wider post-Fukushima effect," says Gordon MacKerron of Sussex University in Brighton, UK.

Germany was the most prominent country to withdraw from nuclear power following Fukushima, and will close all 22 of its power reactors within the next decade. In September last year, Germany's biggest nuclear builder, Siemens, abandoned the industry .

Knock-on effects

Italy and Switzerland have also dropped plans for future plants. A public backlash, combined with safety reviews, means that only one of Japan's 50 power reactors is currently generating.

And then there's China's delay in construction of new plants pending a safety review. "The longish pause in Chinese ordering is perhaps the most spectacular knock-on effect from Fukushima," says MacKerron.

The UK's nuclear ambitions were not stymied by Fukushima. Wylfa and Oldbury were among eight sites chosen for a new generation of reactors. France's EDF and the Franco-Spanish NuGen remain committed to building UK reactors.

Despite the drop-off in nuclear power generation, Germany's decision may not mean a boost for European green energy . "Investment is stalling generally across the energy industry, including the major investment needed for offshore wind projects," says Sue Ion of the Royal Academy of Engineering in London.

The energy technology most likely to gain from any nuclear freeze in UK is gas turbines, says McKerron. With gas prices high, they cost a lot to run – but they are cheap and quick to build.

While carbon emissions from gas-fired power plants are only half those for coal, they are higher than for nuclear or renewables and so would threaten UK commitments to cut national greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050.

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