This Commons Library briefing paper summarises current progress on nuclear power, including conventional reactors, advanced designs, waste disposal, and nuclear research.

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This paper summarises current progress on nuclear power, including conventional reactors, advanced designs, waste disposal and nuclear research. This paper does not seek to provide a detailed analysis of the possible merits and limitations of nuclear as a power source. It also does not discuss other uses of nuclear materials such as nuclear weapons or medical uses of radioisotopes.

Nuclear power plants in the UK

The UK has 15 existing reactors, generating about a fifth its electricity, and 13 others are at various stages of the construction or planning process.

In September 2016, the May Government gave the final go-ahead to Hinkley Point C, the first nuclear power station for a generation. In June 2018, the May Government also announced potential direct funding for new nuclear power plants, and, separately, a Nuclear Sector Deal as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, with £200 million for supporting the industry.

However in November 2018, the collapse of private sector support for a new plant at Moorside, and in January 2019 the suspension of the Hitachi project at Wylfa, cast doubt on the future of nuclear plants in the UK. To address this, the Government has consulted on a new model for funding nuclear reactors, known as a Regulated Asset Base model.

Research and development

Successive Governments have been supportive of nuclear power, including funding for research and innovation into nuclear technologies. The Cameron Government announced initiatives and funding for advanced reactors, including £250 million for development. The May Government announced support for nuclear power in the Industrial Strategy as well as specific funding in areas such as small modular reactors. The Johnson Government has also announced support for nuclear fusion.[1]

Waste management

Nuclear waste comprises many different products and can be split into categories from low to high level waste. The UK’s policy for long-term high-level waste disposal is a deep geological disposal (GDF) facility. Despite a 2008 siting process for a facility ending in 2013 with no community willing to host the facility, successive Governments have remained committed to a GDF and the May Government published a new National Policy Statement on disposal. Until a suitable site is identified and the facility constructed, waste will continue to be stored at existing sites such as Sellafield.

[1]     Put simply, fusion is a reaction where atomic nuclei are fused, rather than split as in fission. This type of reaction remains in research development rather than being commercially deployed as fission is.

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