Country profile: United Kingdom

Summary figures for 2015

The following information is from the NEA publication Nuclear Energy Data, the annual compilation of official statistics and country reports on nuclear energy in OECD member countries.

Number of nuclear power plants connected to the grid
Nuclear electricity generation
(net TWh) 2015
Nuclear percentage of total electricity supply
United Kingdom
OECD Europe
OECD Total
1 878.7
NEA Total
2 073.9

Country report

Recent developments in UK policy on nuclear energy

At the general level, it is a UK government policy objective that nuclear power should form part of a low-carbon energy mix, while the population, society and natural environment should be protected from harmful levels of radioactivity through appropriate national measures – whether derived from European Council (EC) directives and regulations, international agreements or domestic legislation.

Some aspects of radioactive waste management policy are devolved to the government administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Legislative and regulatory changes

In December 2013, the Energy Act 2013 was enacted, which included measures to facilitate the building of a new generation of nuclear power stations in England and Wales and placed the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) on a statutory basis. The establishment of ONR as a public corporation, with responsibility for holding the nuclear industry to account on behalf of the public in a fully transparent way, is seen by the UK government as important to address the anticipated regulatory demands of an expanding nuclear sector. Creation of the ONR brought regulation of nuclear safety, regulation of the transport of civil radioactive materials, regulation of security compliance and the UK Safeguards Office into a single body.

Future development of nuclear energy

The UK reactor fleet is comparatively old and operators have stated that they expected a reduction of existing nuclear capacity. The UK government believes nuclear power is a low-carbon, affordable, secure, dependable and safe means of electricity generation that can sustainably increase the diversity and security of energy supply.The UK government has taken a series of facilitative actions to encourage nuclear new build, and industry has announced ambitions for construction of up to 16 GW by 2025.

Generic design assessment (GDA) is one of the facilitative actions set out in the Nuclear White Paper 2008 and is undertaken by the ONR and the Environment Agency. GDA is a voluntary process that allows regulators to begin consideration of the generic safety, security and environmental aspects of designs for NPPs prior to applications for site-specific licensing and planning consents.

The Scottish government has made clear it will not grant planning consent to any forthcoming proposal to build new nuclear power plants in Scotland, though it recognises that lifetime extensions for the pre-existing operational power stations could help maintain security of supply while the transition to renewable and alternative thermal generation takes place.

Three consortia are currently preparing for the construction of new nuclear power plants:

Among the consortia, NNBGenco has made most progress, having received regulatory approval (site licence, environmental permits and GDA of its EPR reactor design) in late 2012. In October 2013, the UK government announced that initial agreement had been reached on the key terms of a proposed investment contract for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. The key terms include 35-year "contract for difference" (CfD), the "Strike Price" of GBP 89.50/megawatt-hours (MWh) being fully indexed to the Consumer Price Index and conditional upon Sizewell C project proceeding. In October 2014, the EC decided that UK plans to support the construction and operation of the project were in line with EU state aid rules. A final investment decision on Hinkley Point C is, at the time of writing this report, expected imminently.

For new nuclear build, Section 45 of the Energy Act 2008 requires prospective nuclear operators to submit a funded decommissioning programme (FDP) for approval by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). DECC published final FDP statutory guidance in December 2011 to assist operators to develop their programmes. The purpose of FDP is to ensure operators set aside sufficient funds to cover the cost of decommissioning and waste management including their share of the costs of geological disposal.

The government received an FDP submission from NNBG in March 2012 and discussions with NNBGenco were concluded in October 2015 whereby the FDP was approved by the UK government.

Developments in waste management policy

The Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) White Paper, published in 2008, set out a framework for implementing geological disposal of UK higher activity radioactive waste (HAW) through working in partnership with communities potentially willing to host a facility. Publication was coupled with an invitation to communities to express an interest in entering discussions about the siting process to host such a facility. At the appropriate time, the stored waste in England and Wales will be transported to, and disposed of, in a geological disposal facility (GDF).

A further White Paper in 2014 "Implementing Geological Disposal" updated and replaced (in England and Northern Ireland) the 2008 White Paper, by setting out a renewed overarching policy framework for implementing geological disposal and identifying initial actions to be led by the UK government and the intended developer (Radioactive Waste Management Ltd [RWM], a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) to support the process for siting a GDF by providing greater levels of information and clarity on key issues for prospective host communities. These initial actions, which will be completed prior to any further communities being invited to join the siting process, include:

The UK government believes the outputs will enable communities to engage with the process to implement a GDF with greater confidence. Following completion of the initial actions, the UK government will reopen the siting process for interested communities to join.

In relation to the 2008 White Paper, the Welsh government reserved its position on geological disposal for higher activity radioactive waste (HAW) in Wales but continued to play an active part in the MRWS programme to ensure that the interests of the people of Wales were recognised in the process. Between October 2014 and January 2015, the Welsh government issued a consultation on the management and disposal of HAW as part of a review of its policy. On 19 May 2015, the Welsh government issued a statement adopting a policy for the geological disposal of HAW.

The Scottish government is not a sponsor of the programme for implementing geological disposal, but remains committed to the responsible management of the radioactive wastes arising in Scotland in near-surface facilities.

The Scottish government believes HAW management facilities should be located as near to the site where the waste was produced as possible (the "proximity principle"). The Scottish government also believes developers should demonstrate how the facilities will be monitored and how any stored waste or waste packages could be retrieved.

The Scottish government is developing a strategy to support the implementation of its policy.

Source: Nuclear Energy Data 2016

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Last reviewed: 21 December 2016