Section 1: History of the UK Nuclear
Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) was established in 1954 as a statutory
corporation to oversee and pioneer the development of nuclear energy within the
United Kingdom.” When formed the UKAEA was responsible for the UK’s entire
nuclear program, including both civil and defence. It carried out a lot of
research and pioneered UK nuclear fission power and nuclear technology, as well
as overseeing peaceful developments in the industry. However, since the early
1970s, its area of work as gradually decreased, as certain parts have been
transferred to other government organisations as well as the private sector.
As of 2017,
around a quarter of the UK’s electricity is generated by nuclear power;
estimated to be closer to a third by 2035.
first nuclear power station in the UK, Calder Hall, was primarily built with
the aim of producing weapons grade plutonium. Despite this, it was still the first
nuclear power station in the world to deliver electricity in commercial
quantities. The plant was first connected to the grid on the 27th
August 1956 and at the time housed four 60 MWe Magnox reactors (later reduced
to 50 MWe in 1973). With weapons grade
plutonium being the main use of the plant at the beginning, electricity
production was of secondary concern, until 1964, when it was mainly used on
commercial fuel cycles. Then in 1995 the Government announced that all
plutonium production for weapons purposes had been stopped. The station was
finally closed on the 31st March 2003, the first reactor had been in
use for 47 years.
1966 it was announced that the first prototype ‘fast breeder reactor’ in the
United Kingdom would be constructed in Dounreay, Scotland, and would cost £30
million. Most of these facilities are now under decommission.
British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) was established from the demerger of the
UKAEA production division and in 1984 became a public limited company, fully
owned by the Government. The company had many functions, such as manufacturing
and transporting nuclear fuels (like MOX), ran reactors, generated and sold electricity,
reprocessed and managed spent fuel (mainly at Sellafield), and decommissioned
nuclear plants and other similar facilities. The last BNFL headquarters were
situated in Daresbury Park, near Warrington. On April 1st 2005, the
company started a restructuring process which transferred or sold almost all
transferred all its nuclear sites to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority the
same year. The following year, it sold its Westinghouse Electric Company.
Later, BNFL sold the separate companies that made up its major subsidiary,
British Nuclear Group, leaving a decommissioning and reprocessing organisation
which became Sellafield Ltd. By May 2009, BNFL had completed the sales of all
its assets and had no remaining operational activities or businesses.
(Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant) was opened in 1994 at Sellafield with
construction being started in the 1970s and costing £2.4billion. It is owned by
the Decommissioning Authority and reprocesses spent nuclear reactor fuel into
96% Uranium and 1% Plutonium, the remaining 3% of waste is stored and treated
on site too. The Uranium is then made available for customers to be used as new
fuel. The plant is meant to be closing this year once the current contracts
have been finished.
In 2002, the
government energy review regarding Nuclear Energy said that, “The immediate priorities of energy
policy are likely to be most cost-effectively served by promoting energy
efficiency and expanding the role of renewables. However, the options of new
investment in nuclear power and in clean coal (through carbon sequestration)
need to be kept open, and practical measures taken to do this.”
In 2003, an
energy white paper stated that nuclear power was an important way to get
carbon-free electricity, but also mentioned that the economic side of
generating nuclear power may have been an issue, along with the issue nuclear
waste. It concluded that there was still a possibility of new nuclear builds in
the future, especially if the carbon target was to be met.
from this 2003 white paper for reaching future carbon targets was followed up
in 2005, with an announcement of a new energy review. With reasons also coming
from advisors to Tony Blair regarding the countries goals to reduce gas
emissions that cause global warming. Subsequently, this new review was launched
in January 2006. A year later however, this energy review was thrown due to a
high court ruling in favour of environmental group ‘Greenpeace’, who, along
with Jeremy Sullivan, deemed the review “seriously flawed” in the way of
economics as well as wording on nuclear waste being ‘inadequate and
The start of
2008 was marked with a ‘go-ahead’ from the UK Government for the building of a
new generation of nuclear power stations. This decision was met with opposition
by the SNP-led Scottish government, who stated that they were against new
station being built there.
the Fukushima disaster, two of the big six power companies (RWE npower and
E.ON) announced in 2012 that they would no longer be planning to develop new
power plants due to the uncertainty the disaster caused.
In 2013, a
report was published which concluded that the UK would be unable to reach the targets
for climate change without new nuclear builds. The report also stated that if
new nuclear plants are not completed on time, it will be “extremely
challenging, if not impossible” for the UK to reach carbon reduction targets.
2017, the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), was informed that the UK
would be withdrawing; following the decision to leave the EU. Leaving Euratom
may lead to a wide range of problems for the industry in areas like research
and regulation and access to nuclear materials.