The UK’s ambitious program to build more nuclear generating stations will begin with the massive Hinkley Point units. Yet, in a recent paper, Prof. Steve Thomas, a well-known energy economist in the UK, asked a question that had been on our minds, namely is it “Time to cancel Hinkley?” The timing of the paper and ensuing editorials coincided with record low prices for off-shore wind, £57.50 per MWh to be exact. The Guardian newspaper editorialized that this figure should “blow away the UK’s nuclear plans.” First, let’s put the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in context. The UK government first announced its nuclear power expansion program in 2006. The plan was to build five new nuclear generating stations, producing 16 GWs, to be on-line by 2030. The units planned are at Sizewell, Wylfa, Moorside, Oldbury and Hinkley. At the time the government cited two concerns with respect to the adequacy of national electric power generation. First, that “security of supply (was) jeopardized” and second, that by 2025 there would be a need to replace aging coal-fired and nuclear power generating plants. The ensuing decade was not kind to the assumptions of UK energy planners. The price of both renewables and natural gas dropped significantly. License extensions could keep most existing nuclear power stations running. And demand for power has fallen below expectations due to moderating economic trends and the dampening impact of conservation measures. In a world eager for low carbon, base load capacity, nuclear has attempted to re-brand itself as the low carbon option. But in countries facing stagnant or declining electrical demand, the need for new, non-intermittent base load power generating resources is diminishing as well.
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