Energy, energy, energy. The topic is ever-present in the news, even more so with the recent development of the war in Ukraine and subsequent rising costs for businesses and households alike. Despite these trials, carbon targets are not going away. So what are the next steps for the UK to achieve the government’s energy targets?
Electricity demand doubled between 1990 and 2018 and is expected to double again by 2050. Viable long-term sustainable energy solutions are necessary to combat climate change and ensure natural resources are not decimated to meet future demands. As of 2022, around two-thirds of electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that 80% of the world’s electricity must be low carbon by 2050 to stabilise global warming.
So what is the solution? Renewable energies (such as solar and wind) are popular alternatives to traditional fossil fuels. Solar and wind energy are eternally renewable with an endless accessible supply. From a monetary perspective, solar panels have low maintenance costs and wind power is cost-effective to run. However, renewable energy sources have their drawbacks, taking up large amounts of space and being reliant on sunshine and wind to perform to their maximum capacity. Often space allocated for solar panels and wind turbines is far from the cities and towns that will use the energy. These alternatives do not yet have the same output capabilities as the fossil fuels we currently use.
However, a further clean alternative to both renewable and fossil fuel created energy is, of course, nuclear. It is hard to go more than a few days without hearing about nuclear developments on the news such as plans for Sizewell C or Hinkley Point, and uproar around the building of nuclear plants continues. But how much of this controversy is based on fact? In a recent survey of Advanced Engineering community, 54% of people said that they felt nuclear was the future of the energy industry. 25% felt there were better alternatives, and 21% highlighted safety concerns about nuclear power.
On 15th April this year Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce plc was a guest on BBC 5 Live’s ‘The Big Green Money Show’ discussing Rolls-Royce’s new development of small modular nuclear reactors. These mini reactors are mentioned in the recent government energy strategy as an important part of powering factories and homes in the future, as the aim is to have 25% of UK energy derived from nuclear power by 2050.
So is nuclear energy safe? The short answer, according to the NEI, is yes. Many misconceptions about the safety of nuclear energy come from high-profile issues, such as Chornobyl, but nuclear energy has been developed and used safely for the last 60 years. As discussed by Warren East, nuclear energy is stringently regulated (more so than other energy sectors) and nuclear plants have multiple layers of safety defence systems to avoid any potential breaches. The World Nuclear Association has highlighted that major studies confirm nuclear is an ‘exceptionally safe’ way to produce electricity, and has by far the lowest number of direct fatalities of any major energy source per kWh of energy produced.
The positives of nuclear energy also include the fact that 90% of nuclear waste is recyclable. The processes for extracting, transporting and storing the remaining 10% of waste have been streamlined over the past 60 years and are much more efficient than they used to be. Nuclear power takes up less space than other types of energy production and is cheaper to produce. When discussing the new Rolls-Royce small modular reactor East explained that 1 of these reactors could power a city the size of Leeds.
It seems inevitable that nuclear energy will be a part of the future of UK energy, and will be an integral part of achieving the 2050 net-zero goals. It is likely we will see new nuclear plants powering factories and manufacturing plants across all sectors in years to come. Let’s hope this transition to nuclear energy improves production processes for all. What do you think about the use of nuclear energy? Let us know on our LinkedIn Group
The Big Green Money Show, 15 April 2022, BBC 5 Live
The Nuclear Debate – World Nuclear Association (world-nuclear.org)
Is Nuclear Energy Safe? (nei.org)