Few subjects are as polarising as nuclear power. Supporters claim a new generation of nuclear plants is the most effective means of helping to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, while filling the ‘energy gap’ that will result from the decommissioning of old fossil fuel and nuclear power facilities in the 2020s.
But opponents believe it is an expensive folly, replete with ethical and environmental effects that have repercussions for generations to come, siphoning money and attention away from renewables.
The debate took on another dimension in 2011, when the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami led to the meltdown of three of the Fukushima nuclear power plant’s reactors. In response, Germany cancelled its nuclear programme, embarking on the ‘energiewende’ (energy shift), which aims to produce 60% of Germany’s power through renewable sources by 2050. By contrast, the UK is proposing to build a new generation of nuclear power plants, starting with Hinkley Point C.
Where next for the UK nuclear industry?