The United Kingdom will invest 350 million euros in its own production of high-grade low-enriched uranium (Haleu). This is one of the notable points of the new British nuclear roadmap, presented at the beginning of January.
For Claire Coutinho, Secretary of State for energy security and carbon neutrality, it is a necessary investment to reduce the country’s dependence on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Russians are currently the only ones to market Haleu, the fuel necessary to power modern EPR-type reactors. The United States and China have launched their program.
The British government also wants to increase the share of nuclear power in the country’s energy needs, from 15% currently to 25% by 2050, or 24 GW hoped for. Obtaining them within the allotted time is no easy feat, say most atomic specialists. The two EPRs at the Hinkley Point power station are once again behind schedule. It was supposed to be 2017, then 2025, 2027… It will rather be 2029, or even 2031, announced EDF, the project leader, on Tuesday January 23.
For what costs?
Furthermore, by 2030, eight of the nine British reactors in service will be shut down. It is imperative to learn the lessons of the cursed Hinkley Point site, to connect the new Sizewell power station on the scheduled date – 2035 – even though it only received the green light from the High Court in June 2023. And to launch, at the same time, a new power plant on the east coast of England and small modular reactors (SMR).
The United Kingdom also has an unfortunate tendency to underestimate the cost of modern nuclear power. Hinkley Point was valued at 10 billion euros in 2008; it’s 53 billion today, calculated Simon Evans, energy specialist for Carbon Brief. Also, 350 million to produce Haleu doesn’t seem like much. Especially since it will be necessary to dismantle the historic Sellafield, known for its radioactive leaks… For the major clean-up of the seventeen nuclear sites, the British nuclear authority is having difficulty making precise forecasts: it has planned between 115 and 270 billion euros over the next one hundred and twenty years. A rather wide range of time and money.
This article is originally published on ouest-france.fr