Record imports mean that the UK is increasingly dependent on international market conditions and the energy policies of other countries. NIA pointed out that the UK also has no future guarantee of the carbon intensity of what it imports. Belgium says it will phase out nuclear by 2025 and has called for investment in gas, which has 40 times the carbon intensity of nuclear and wind, to partly replace that lost capacity. The UK also imports power from the Netherlands, which is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, including coal, for its electricity supply.
At present, nuclear energy from France makes up the bulk of the imports, followed by Belgium. On most days, the UK imports almost GW worth of nuclear power from Europe, which is close to the equivalent output of the proposed Sizewell C nuclear station in Suffolk at 3.2 GW, or of six units of the planned UK Small Modular Reactor. In July, imported nuclear energy gave London and the South East’s power grids an improved low carbon performance, but without the added economic benefits of domestic nuclear power in the form of investment and jobs.
Nuclear was the leading UK zero-carbon generator in July with 15% of the mix. Most of this fleet, however, will retire by the end of March 2024. Grid decarbonisation progress is also stalling: 2021 is the first year since 2012 in which grid carbon intensity in the year-to-date has risen. The UK is also currently on a 40-day coal burning streak, which is more than it burned over a seven-month period from 10 April to 5 November 2020.
NIA CEO Tom Greatrex said: “If we want to produce reliable, clean power which would sustain tens of thousands of well-paid jobs across the UK, we must invest in new British nuclear projects. It would cut millions of tonnes of emissions each year and provide new opportunity for communities across our country. If we are happy enough to rely on French and Belgian nuclear power, we should be happy enough to build our own. Unless we act now to build new nuclear capacity, the gap will be filled by more gas bought from volatile global markets or power imported from Europe, and the jobs and skills sustained by those stations will go.”