Keeping the lights on

Think tank: Adam Smith Institute

Author(s): Simon Clanmorris MA; Peter Edwards FRS, ML; Paul Norman PHD

September 14, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Adam Smith Institute looks at testing the Government’s projections for electricity supply and nuclear capacity.

This report highlights the fact that the Government is under-investing in the nuclear power it needs to reach its decarbonisation targets, and sets out how we can fast-track approval for modern, less expensive, reactors. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is under- estimating the UK’s energy demand in 2050; In particular, it appears to be failing to take into account the fact that we will not be able to rely on Variable Renewable Energy—such as wind and solar—during periods of Dunkelflaute (where the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow); As a result, BEIS is also underestimating how much nuclear power will be required if the Government intends to maintain its goal of decarbonising the UK’s electricity system by 2035; The Government plans to replace our current nuclear capacity with older generation nuclear reactors, which are costly and unlikely to be built in time to meet decarbonisation targets; Modern Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) could be a solution to address the shortfall in zero carbon electricity generation. Compared to conventional nuclear reactors, they are quick to build and have far smaller capital costs and space requirements; SMRs are also less of a safety hazard owing to features such as their modern design and the fact that they are mostly low pressure, so regulation could be streamlined were the UK to fast-track any design that had been approved in the USA or Canada; In the medium term, Advanced Modular Reactors would be a better solution. If the UK were to fast-track regulatory approval, these could be supplied from 2030 onwards.