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Nuclear world offers UK context

Binyamin Ali

Nuclear energy’s global footprint makes for interesting reading.

Following the Fukushima meltdown in March 2011, Japan shut down all of its reactors until they could be inspected.

The country has since restarted seven of its 42 operable reactors, with a further 17 currently going through an approval process with a view to being restarted.

Nuclear energy has been a national strategic priority in Japan since 1973 and although the policy was reviewed in 2011 following the disaster, this has not changed.

Fukushima also prompted Germany – which had just reversed the previous government’s decision to phase out nuclear by extending the lives of seven reactors – to flip back again.

In June 2011, Germany’s coalition government led by Angela Merkel committed to shutting down all of the country’s reactors by 2022.

In that same month, however, the UK’s then coalition government published a list of eight sites suitable for new nuclear plants – six of which now have live development plans, as CN explores this week.

The opposing policies chosen by German and British politicians reveals, if nothing else, the realities of energy generation.

Though expensive to build in comparison with solar and wind farms (some of which are now being built with no subsidies), not to mention the cost of treating radioactive by-products, the upshot is that a single nuclear plant can power millions of homes without emitting any carbon.

The potential energy security a nation can enjoy through a nuclear-led network is perhaps best demonstrated by France, which derives 75 per cent of its energy from nuclear and is one of the world’s biggest net exporters of electricity – worth €3bn-a-year to the country.

In 2015 France committed to reducing its dependence on nuclear from 75 per cent to 50 per cent by 2025. But in November 2017, the government pushed this back to 2030-2035 (reality bites again).

Meanwhile the US is the largest producer of nuclear energy, with its 99 reactors churning out 805bn KWh in 2016 (accounting for 20 per cent of the US’s energy mix).

Against this backdrop, the government’s willingness to consider taking a £5bn stake in Horizon Nuclear Power’s Wylfa Newydd plant starts to look a little different.

As far as the government is concerned, it doesn’t matter how much more cost-effective solar and wind have become: securing Britain’s future energy supply means going nuclear.

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