Nuclear waste has been managed safely in the UK for over 50 years. The industry has extensive experience, a strong safety culture and is overseen by a robust and independent nuclear regulatory regime. The UK Government has a policy to develop a deep Geological Disposal Facility for final storage of UK waste, both from legacy facilities and new build stations. This follows international best practice and the process for construction of geological disposal facilities is already underway in countries such as Finland and Sweden. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is leading the process for development of a repository in the UK, on the basis of host community volunteerism.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation’s Civil Nuclear Security Programme (ONR-CNS), is responsible for approving security arrangements for the industry and enforcing compliance. Nuclear facilities are also monitored by a number of other domestic and international bodies who ensure a full range of rigorous security and safeguard arrangements. Modern nuclear power stations are extremely robust structures and have a multi-layered defence against physical threats such as aircraft or other impacts.
A balanced energy mix is essential to provide affordable, secure and sustainable energy supplies for the UK over the decades ahead. Renewables will play a central role in this mix, but cannot grow fast enough to replace the electricity shortfall on their own, nor can they independently ensure stable electricity supplies. A balanced energy mix will reduce the UK’s dependency on any one technology and will provide the best protection against the risk of supply interruptions.
The uranium required to fuel existing and potential new stations is readily available and can be found in politically stable countries. The required amount of fuel is small in volume and even a rapid expansion of nuclear power on a worldwide scale would not unduly affect resources.
The civil nuclear industry employs more than 60,000 highly skilled people throughout the UK, with a total of over 100,000 jobs directly or indirectly linked with the industry.
Nuclear is the only proven technology capable of delivering large capacities of low carbon energy whatever the weather. It currently prevents the release of around 40,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year from the UK.
Nuclear energy has supplied up to a third of the country’s electricity safely and reliably since 1956. The UK industry, with 16 reactors on 9 sites, currently supplies nearly a sixth of the country’s electricity.
Nuclear supplies 13% of the world’s electricity. There are currently over 400 commercial nuclear reactors operating in 30 countries, with a further 67 under construction.
Rigorous processes ensure that UK nuclear installations have an exemplary safety record.
The industry is closely regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) which ensures that all nuclear plants are built and operated to the highest safety levels. The Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Environment Protection Agency ensure radioactive waste discharges and other environmental impacts are correctly managed.
UK nuclear installations are built with a wealth of safety measures in place to ensure that they can safely withstand extreme conditions, including fire and earthquakes.
A nuclear reactor itself does not emit any greenhouse gases, and even if the emissions from the mining of uranium, building of power stations and management of waste are taken into account they are still much lower than the emissions produced by burning fossil fuels, and roughly equivalent to the lifetime carbon footprint of wind power.
Nuclear power has been shown to be an affordable, long-term low carbon option for power generation. This is because fuel costs represent only a small fraction of the total operating costs for nuclear power compared to fossil fuel generation. A range of independent studies show full nuclear lifecycle costs, including decommissioning and waste management, to be competitive with other sources.
Due to recent European emissions legislation, around 30% of the UK's existing coal and oil-fired power stations are due to close by 2015. In addition, older, existing nuclear stations are already closing and according to current plans most will have shut by 2023 as they reach the end of their operational lives. Despite on-going efforts to improve energy efficiency, demand for electricity is expected to increase and if power plants are not replaced, the UK could face a major shortfall in electricity supply.
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