Britain gives nuclear a second chance

Because there is no major British nuclear supplier, companies from abroad need to play major roles

Stanley Reed of the New York Times gets lyrical in his lede as he reports from Hinkley-Point, England that Britain is looking at nuclear power again, but it is an important story because in the rush to renewables and improving energy use, nuclear has been left behind.

“Along an old Roman road called Green Lane, purple thistles and scarlet poppies wave in the breeze. If things go according to the plans of EDF Energy, the British subsidiary of the French state-owned utility EDF, this verdant hillside overlooking the Bristol Channel in southwest England will be the site of two gigantic nuclear power stations — the first to be built in Britain since the mid-1990s.

“In a turnabout from the late 20th century, the British government is courting the nuclear industry. It wants low-carbon power to aid its goal, enshrined in law, of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. About 18 percent of Britain’s power now comes from nuclear sources, but several of those aging plants are scheduled to be retired in the next few years along with pollution- belching coal-fired generators.

“The government has identified eight sites, all with existing nuclear facilities, where new ones might go. The Hinkley Point reactors would provide about 6 percent of Britain’s power supply — enough for five million homes.

“A visit to Hinkley Point makes one think EDF is serious. Workers in yellow uniforms and hard hats are starting preparations for the construction, which would take nine years, as they wait for a final go-ahead from the company and the government.

“’I’ve bet my career on it, so I think that it is pretty high,’ Nigel Cann, Hinkley Point’s manager, said of the probability that the plants will be built.

“The final decision, perhaps early next year, will come down to whether the suppliers think they can control the costs and risks and how much the government is willing to do to build nuclear facilities that are low in carbon emissions but have other liabilities, including a risk of catastrophe and no satisfactory answer after decades about what to do with the toxic waste they produce.”

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