Revealed: Britain is one of the most expensive places in the world to build new nuclear

At Cop 28 last week 22 countries from around the world, including Britain, pledged to triple global nuclear capacity by 2050.

However, new research by Britain Remade has revealed that building new nuclear power plants in Britain is more expensive than almost anywhere else in the world. Britain ranks 15th out of 16 countries by construction cost per megawatt hour (MW) of generating capacity. Only America performed worse.

The new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset is on course to cost £33bn, the 2nd most expensive project in the world, at £10.03m per MW of generation capacity. Using the same reactor design China was able to build Taishan 1 and 2 for just over a fifth of this cost. 

Analysis of every nuclear plant constructed since 2000 has uncovered that most nuclear plants are being built in low-to-middle income countries, China is currently building 22 reactors while India is building 8. 

China's low cost may be explained, in part, by workers earning less, but high-wage Finland and France have also been able to build at lower costs. Finland's Olkiluoto 3 cost £5.97m per MW capacity built, whileFrance's Flamanville 3 cost £7.24m.

South Korea is the runaway success when it comes to building new nuclear cheaply. The East Asian nation is able to build nuclear plants at roughly a quarter of the cost of building in Britain. While Britain builds for £9.42m per MW, South Korea can build one for just £2.24m per MW. 

The 13th largest economy in the world is able to achieve this massive cost saving over Britain because, unlike Britain - which has not built a new nuclear reactor in 28 years - they have a strategy of building entire fleets of new nuclear plants, rather than taking a piecemeal approach. For each of the two reactor designs used, South Korea builds 8-12 reactors in a row

By building fleets, instead of individual reactors like in Britain, the Koreans benefit from economies of scale and gain valuable experience while building a highly skilled workforce. 

Kepco, South Korea’s largest electricity generator, is now using the expertise and experience gained at home to export its reactor technology around the world. It is using the same reactor design used in Korea to build a power station in the UAE. Even without a nuclear history and starting from scratch, these reactors will still be 2 1⁄2 times cheaper than Hinkley Point C. 

Unlike South Korea, neither France nor Finland have pursued a fleet strategy for new nuclear. In both cases they went at least 20 years without building a new nuclear power station. And the added cost is not coming from the construction time with both new plants taking 17 years to complete.

Planning and financing is where the costs start to stack up. Hinkley Point C took 10 years to go from Government proposal to construction starting. By contrast in Finland it was 4 ½ years, with the actual application for a construction permit only taking a year. In France EDF decided to support building a new plant at Flamanville in the middle of 2004. After public consultation, this decision was confirmed in 2006 with construction started in 2007.

While many of the financing issues for new nuclear have now been fixed, the planning system remains a major barrier to building fast and cheap.

With a 44,260 page environmental impact assessment (EIA) and 2,229 written questions at the examination stage, Sizewell C, the next reactor after Hinkley Point C, has faced enormous expense before a spade is even in the ground. 

As the recent government policy paper ‘Getting Great Britain Building Again’ pointed out, Sizewell C’s EIA is “more than 30 times longer than the complete works of Shakespeare.

New nuclear is critical if we are to have a decarbonised electricity grid by 2035. To achieve this the Government needs to urgently take steps to bring the cost of building new nuclear power stations in Britain down. 

We can learn lessons from South Korea’s fleet strategy, especially when it comes to the roll out of Small Modular Reactors. But we also need major reforms of the siting and planning process so we can make the most of next generation modular technology.

Click here to read the full research paper

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Sam Richards, founder and campaign director at Britain Remade, said:

“Britain led the world in going nuclear. We were the country that split the atom, built the world’s first full-scale nuclear power station, and then built another 9 in the decade that followed.

“But our latest research has shown that Britain is no longer a world leader when it comes to building nuclear power stations. Almost every country that builds new nuclear is able to do so much cheaper than we can. This should be a wake up call for everyone in Government.

“Last week at COP 28, Britain joined nations from around the world in pledging to triple global nuclear capacity by 2050. If this pledge is to mean anything the Government needs to get a grip of cost before it is too late.

“Yes we have built a huge amount of renewable energy projects over the last decade, but without new nuclear power it will be impossible to achieve a clean power grid by 2030. Not only does this mean we’ll have higher energy bills for longer, it also means that we will miss out on thousands of jobs up and down the country.

“High nuclear costs are not inevitable. If we can learn the lessons of other countries that have kept costs down, then Britain can still have a bright, atom-powered future.”