The UK government is desperate for a new generation of nuclear power stations. But how is the older generation doing? Not well

Six of the UK's ten nuclear stations are not operating at full capacity. Three are completely closed, one is operating at half capacity and two have been reduced to 70 per cent because of safety fears.

There is talk of brownouts and blackouts in the UK as early as next month when it is feared the country’s national grid will be unable to fulfil demand for electricity..

So why has the British government continuing to fail to learn the lessons of the past? Why isn’t the rest of the world looking at the example of the UK’s nuclear industry?

Nuclear power in the UK has been pretty disastrous from the beginning. Huge schedule and cost overruns have been big features of British reactor construction (a habit that reactor builders across the world have mimicked). One reactor at Dungeness began electricity generation 19 years late.

Nor have the UK’s reactors produce the capacity expected of them. The B reactors at Dungeness rank 406 and 409 on the world ranking of reactor performance (there are 414 reactors on the list), at 40 and 34 per cent of expected capacity respectively. In fact UK reactors have a poor reputation for output as a whole with only two reactors (Heysham B1 at 189 and Sizewell B at 49) featuring in the top half of the rankings.

The chances of the UK government turning this around are slim. The UK lacks the industrial capacity to allow a nuclear ‘renaissance’. The production of components for nuclear reactors has several bottlenecks across the world and it will be years before British industry can help. The recruitment of nuclear inspectors is stagnant and the industry’s workforce is ageing as a whole. There is a shortage of staff to decommission existing reactors let alone build new ones. With nuclear ‘renaissances’ being launched around the world, will the UK be able to recruit foreign expertise?

Proponents of nuclear power say it’s the only way to plug the ‘energy gap’ faced by the UK and other countries. And yet the nuclear industry in the UK actively contributes to that gap and in fact seems intent on bringing to UK citizens much sooner – it is the all too predictable failings of nuclear that have brought this to pass. It’s all rather perverse when one considers the ease with which renewable solutions can be put into action. Consider that if only renewable and efficiency targets were met, the need for nuclear, with all its doubt and danger, would disappear. Instead of raising them up, as the British public is about to discover, nuclear is dragging them down.

(Figures courtesy of Corporate Watch’s Broken Promises)