The new nuclear reactors at Hinkley are old fashioned!

Would it not be better to spend the £14Billion on renewable energy?

In order to be able to limit the rapid increase in global temperature to around three degrees, a lot of coal burning needs to be stopped. At present, coal is primarily burned to make electricity. Estimates state that if coal burning is not limited, the global temperature rise can be as high as six degrees, which would be an astounding figure. At present, there isn’t a lot of progress in this field; reusable plastic bags, recycling methods, electric cars are all pretty small on the global scale to make a decent enough impact. However, in order to prevent the massive usage of around two trillion tons of coal and gas, we need to come up with a decent alternative. Even though gas is still a better option than coal, it still produces CO2 in vast quantities.

A growing number of the UK population has been looking towards the long touted wind and solar energy alternatives for some time now. However, currently, wind and solar energy are pretty unreliable, quite expensive and as yet, quite inefficient technologies. Even though significant progress has been made in the field of both wind and solar energy, it is still a far way off being considered as a viable alternative to coal primarily because of sheer numbers / outputs required. Prof. David MacKay, a government adviser stated that to completely substitute the output power of fossil fuels with solar and wind power would require a ‘complete re-engineering’ of the entire United Kingdom, would require the use of all exposed areas to be littered with turbines, in addition to a vast amount of suitable ocean required to build offshore wind farms, all of which would require a financial investment running into the hundreds of billions of pounds.Hinkley_Nuclear

As a result, considering the current energy climate, Britain citizens have unfortunately been left with no option than to accept a new deal closed between the Government, a Chinese consortium as well as the French energy giant EDF, to construct a new set of reactors which will be situated at Hinkley Point in Somerset, the cost of which is expected to be around 14 billion GBP. It is expected that these reactors will be switched on by 2020, and each will have a capacity of 1.6 gigawatts. Moreover, by the time that these reactors are turned on, Britain will have significantly reduced the energy gap, mainly because of the shutdown of the older reactors as well as the Giga watts of coal power being taken offline. Estimates state that the new reactors will be able to supply up to 7 percent of the country’s energy, which is similar in scale to the Drax coal station, which is the largest in the United Kingdom.

However, because the Government has opted for an EPR design (EPR stands for European Pressurized Water Reactor), the Government is essentially pitting itself for decades into a technology that is likely to become outdated in the very near future. The new reactors will be reliant on a rapidly decreasing supply of uranium fuel and they’ll still be paying a significantly high amount for it. As the strike price is around 9.3p for every kilowatt hour, linked to the index, it means that Hinkley C. is by some estimates, the most expensive power station on the globe.

However, Hinkley isn’t the only new addition being planned by the government for the energy sector of the UK. Horizon Nuclear Power, a Japanese owned firm, which has announced plans for new boiling water reactors to be installed at Wylfa and Oldbury, are both going to be using older technology that is soon going to become outdated, much like that of Hinkley C. It might be a bit past the point of no return when we consider alterations to the design, but are there any better substitutes available for the rise of the Britain’s energy sector?

On the face of it, even with Hinkley C and Horizon installed, Britain still faces a very difficult period of around six years in which the overall demand of electricity is likely to go higher than the supply, and this can cause a lot of problems. Could there be a cheaper, more viable and more affordable option available in the market which can close the energy gap rather than the older uranium fuelled water cooled fission reactors?

As sad as it is, we can completely forget about the most promising long term solution to end the global energy crisis; fusion. Ever since it was discovered that the nuclear chain reactor that provides power to the Sun as well as the H bomb back in the 1950s, scientists and researchers have stated that fusion powered nuclear reactors are around 40 years away. To this day, that figure remains. Even though an experimental reactor was created in France, even though significant improvements have been made in the fields of nuclear energy, we are still quite far away from having fusion based nuclear reactors. In fact, it is likely to be around 2100s until we are able to actually generate commercial electricity from fusion based nuclear reactors.

This leaves us with two options at present; use thorium fuel, which is more readily available and also quite cheaper and on the same hand, quite effective too. Or, we could opt for the lesser known ‘fast breeder reactor’. The fuel which can be used in this kind of reactor (it can be thorium), is going to be used in a much more efficient manner than the conventional designs. The research for fast breeder reactors was completed in Britain, the US and France around the 1980s, but development of this technology was stalled primarily because the high costs associated with building a reactor were making it a very poor decision from an economic point of view. Thorium and fast breeder reactors can provide a much needed relaxation to the continuous pressure on the energy industry, because thorium is quite readily available as compared to uranium fuel. So, it remains to be seen what steps the Government is likely to take.

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