"One new reactor a year": Johnson heralds the renaissance of nuclear power

Nuclear power is history, there is a broad consensus on that in Germany.

"One new reactor a year": Johnson heralds the renaissance of nuclear power

Nuclear power is history, there is a broad consensus on that in Germany. In Great Britain, however, things are completely different: Prime Minister Johnson announces the return to nuclear energy with big plans. Experts are skeptical - and recall the "most expensive object on earth".

Boris Johnson has a reputation as a player. Therefore, the British Prime Minister must have felt in his element with his announcement. "Now is the time to make a series of big new bets on nuclear energy," Johnson announced in his house newspaper, The Telegraph. Declared goal: "We cannot allow our country to be dependent on Russian oil and gas." Johnson also wants to expand hydropower and wind energy, where Great Britain is the leader. But in contrast to Germany, the head of government of the nuclear power relies on the nuclear option.

As always with Johnson, these are fairly ambitious plans. By 2030, 95 percent of the country's electricity could be low-carbon, i.e. from the sun, wind, water and nuclear power, which could create more than 40,000 new jobs, the prime minister said. The core element of the "energy security strategy" are eight new nuclear reactors by 2030 - one per year, as Johnson calculated. The prime minister wants to use this to cover a large part of the energy requirement. By 2050, nuclear energy production is expected to more than triple to 24 gigawatts and account for up to 25 percent of the expected electricity demand.

The project is well received in the country. Nuclear energy has broad support, even the largest opposition force, Labor, made it clear that it was a "pro-nuclear party". This is in sharp contrast to Germany, where the nuclear phase-out is largely a political and social consensus and the federal government rules out a change of course despite the significantly greater dependence on fossil fuels from Russia. Instead, as is so often the case, Johnson is orienting himself towards traditional arch-rival France, where President Emmanuel Macron announced a "renaissance of nuclear power" this year.

Great Britain was a pioneer in nuclear energy for a long time. In 1956, Queen Elizabeth II opened the world's first commercial nuclear power station in Calder Hall, north-west England. Only six plants are now in operation, five of which will be shut down within the next decade. "Our goal is to be a global leader again with a technology that we pioneered," said Johnson's government now confidently.

The conservative politician is under pressure. It is true that energy costs are not only rising in Great Britain. But here it has a much stronger impact. Electricity and gas prices are skyrocketing: in April, the basic tariff rose by 54 percent, and a similar increase is expected in the autumn. According to experts, the measures taken by the government are far from sufficient to protect millions of consumers from energy poverty.

Despite all of Johnson's promises, nobody knows how long it will really take for the eight promised nuclear power plants to be connected to the grid. This is shown by the example of Hinkley Point C. The reactor in the southwestern English county of Somerset will probably be completed in 2025 at the earliest, so it is about a decade behind schedule - and with an estimated 25 billion pounds (29.5 billion euros) construction costs it is considered the "most expensive object on the earth". The only other current power plant project, Sizewell C in Suffolk in eastern England, will probably generate energy in 2034 at the earliest. "Just like with oil and gas from the North Sea, these new plants cannot possibly be ready in time to solve our problems," Greenpeace said.

This is where another of Johnson's ideas comes into play, called SMR (Small Modular Reactor), small modular reactors. Significantly smaller and cheaper than large power plants, the reactors of the British company Rolls Royce should each be able to supply one million households. As recently as November 2021, the government invested a further £210m in development.

However, experts see open questions. 'Any nuclear project - including the untested (and not small) SMR - is inevitably hugely expensive, blowing time and budget and leaving a legacy that we still don't know how to deal with,' said Sarah Darby of the University of Oxford. Daniel Newport of the Tony Blair Institute judged: "A strategy for the 2030s and 2040s that does nothing to solve the current crisis." Atom is more of a long-term prescription. In the short term, energy bills would continue to rise, Economics Minister Kwasi Kwarteng conceded.

Analysts are particularly surprised that the government tends to neglect the abundant wind energy. An obvious solution to the acute price crisis is also still being ignored: there is still no prospect of comprehensive thermal insulation. In many places the windows are still single-glazed.


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