UK Carbon Budget makes little mention of nuclear

10 December 2020

In its 448-page “Sixth Carbon Budget:The UK’s path to Net Zero” published on 9 December, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) barely mentions nuclear power, nor does the accompanying 209-page “Policies for the Sixth Carbon Budget and Net Zero”.

CCC recommends that the UK sets a Sixth Carbon Budget to require a reduction in UK greenhouse gas emissions of 78% by 2035 relative to 1990, a 63% reduction from 2019.

“This will be a world-leading commitment, placing the UK decisively on the path to Net Zero by 2050 at the latest, with a trajectory that is consistent with the Paris Agreement. It should be accompanied by a similarly ambitious 2030 pledge, to reduce emissions by at least 68% from 1990, as part of the UK’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the UN process.”

CCC’s conclusions are based on consideration of multiple different scenarios, all of which are considered in some detail.

Chapter 3 looks at 11 sector pathways to Net Zero, only two of which are relevant to nuclear power – electricity generation and fuel supply. The 14-page electricity generation section considers how to reduce emissions from electricity generation to near-zero. “This will require a significant expansion of low-carbon generation, in particular low-cost renewables and decarbonised back-up generation, in conjunction with more flexible demand and use of storage,” it says. “Our Balanced Net Zero Pathway decarbonises electricity generation by 2035, with action thereafter focused on meeting new demands in a low-carbon way.”

The key features of the scenario are “an increasing demand for electricity,  decreasing carbon intensity of generation, and a more flexible system”. Decreasing carbon intensity of generation includes: Phasing out unabated fossil fuel generation by 2035; increasing variable renewables to 80% of generation by 2050; and dispatchable low-carbon generation (gas with carbon capture and storage – CCS, bioenergy with CCS, and hydrogen).  It also includes nuclear, noting: “Despite retirements of existing nuclear plants in the 2020s, this scenario sees new nuclear projects restore generation to current levels by 2035. The Balanced Pathway reaches 10GW of total nuclear capacity by 2035, with 8GW of new-build capacity.”

Nuclear also has a minor role under some of the other scenarios. Under the “Headwinds” scenario: “Past 2030, the share of renewable generation increases to around 75%. Nuclear also meets some of the growth in the 2030s”. Under the “Widespread Engagement” scenario, the renewable share of generation grows to 85% by 2050 while “dispatchable low-carbon generation and nuclear play a consistent role in providing about 15% of generation in total”. Under the “ Widespread Innovation” scenario, 90% of generation is met by variable renewables in 2050, and the remaining 10% is delivered by a mix of nuclear, gas CCS, bioenergy with CCS, and hydrogen. The “Tailwinds” scenario is similar, with variable renewables making up 90% of generation in 2050, balanced by a mix of low-carbon generation.


The 25-page section on Fuel Supply says the  Balanced Net Zero Pathway for Fuel Supply “involves a transition from producing 1,100 TWh of fossil fuels and 170 TWh of bioenergy in 2018 to producing

425 TWh of low-carbon hydrogen and bioenergy in 2050, for sectors of the economy that are likely to use fuels, rather than electricity”. It notes that “recent cost reductions for renewables mean that electrolytic hydrogen plays a greater role than in our previous work, especially after 2035”, However there is no mention at all of the possible role of nuclear plants in electrolytic hydrogen production.

The section on capital investment and operational savings sets out the assumptions on which the Balances Net Zero Pathway are based. These assume that capital costs for all technologies will fall between 2020 and 2050.On nuclear, it says: “Nuclear is a mature technology, but we assume cost reductions for future plants after Hinkley Point C from utilising similar plant design and lower-cost financing arrangements (which the Government are currently considering).” However, the costs of all technologies are expected to fall significantly more than nuclear (at 19%) except offshore wind (11%).

As to the accompanying “Policies for the Sixth Carbon Budget and Net Zero”, Nuclear is only mentioned briefly in the 27-page chapter on Electricity Generation. It simply says, “The Government should consider contracting models which help make new nuclear projects commercially viable for private developers.”


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