Despite improvements in the energy efficiency of electrical devices, historically total electricity consumption has continued to rise at about 1% annually in Britain.

The long term outlook for nuclear power

The annual electricity consumption increase of 1% will mean Britain's 59 GWe peak winter electricity demand increasing by 64% over the next 50 years to reach around 97 GWe by 2060.

Electrification of the transport sector may dramatically increase this further still. Faced with these energy realities the prospects for new nuclear build look very promising, but the long term outlook for nuclear power will actually depend on several major questions:

  • How far and how fast Britain decarbonises from an oil-based economy to an electricity-based economy
  • What impact the introduction of smartgrid technology and embedded generation may have on baseload electricity generation needs from large power stations
  • Whether clean coal with carbon capture and torage technology can become commercially feasible as an economic alternative to nuclear power?
  • To what extent renewable energy technologies are deployed at mass scale
  • And crucially, whether another Chernobyl meltdown nuclear accident occurs somewhere else in the world once again.

On Britain's present trajectory, a balanced low-carbon energy mix involving significant nuclear, gas, renewable and embedded generation technologies looks ideal.

If another Chernobyl happens early during a nuclear construction programme, further reactor orders would most likely be cancelled and nuclear build perhaps eventually abandoned. Accidents do of course happen. How well we design around them is what makes the difference between nuisance or catastrophe. Good engineering may well decide the outcome.

Dr Jenifer Baxter

Dr Jenifer Baxter

Energy policy spokesperson

Dr Jenifer Baxter joined the Institution as Head of Energy and the Environment in May 2015. Jenifer works closely with members to raise the profile of engineers and engineering potential, to generate discussion and provide thought leadership in the energy and environment sectors.

Read Jenifer's full biography