United Kingdom prepares for the unthinkable

Sergey Savchuk

Amid the unprecedented energy crisis hitting the UK, Prime Minister Boris Jo-hnson said the governm-ent plans to switch the country to producing ele-ctricity exclusively from renewable sources by 2035.

However, while the kingdom has suspended the program of liquidation of coal-fired thermal power plants. Moreover, the shortage of electricity has reached such a level that the authorities are openly required to revive the nuclear program and to urgently begin the construction of new nuclear power plants. Otherwise, experts threaten, whenever an Englishman wants to boil a kettle, he will have to ask Putin for permission.

The Kingdom of Great Britain in the field of energy has long been known for its fierce struggle for the environment, dislike for coal and the complete victory of alternative sources of generation. In reality, all this is nothing more than a painstakingly created myth that has nothing to do with reality, and this is largely due to the fact that, in pursuit of newfangled trends, London has pushed into the background the energy of the peaceful atom. However, first things first.

As is often the case in the history of mankind, war has become the engine of progress. At a time when the tank groups of the Red Army and the Wehrmacht were fighting to the death on the Kursk Bulge, the Americans and the British in Quebec, Canada, entered into a secret agreement to begin work on the Manhattan project. The same one, within which the first atomic bombs were developed, which later fell on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The British took an overactive part in the project, while against the backdrop of “Manhattan” their own program, called Tube Al-loys (“pipe alloys”), is practically unknown. In 1946, the Americans decided to single-handedly own the most powerful weapon in history and passed the so-c-alled McMahon Act, which prohibited the transfer of scientific data and developments on the fission of the atom to any third parties.

Today it is no longer a secret that our yesterday’s allies in the anti-Hitler coalition were seriously going to inflict massive bombing strikes on the territory of the USSR, wiping out a dozen major cities from the face of the earth, and only the appearance of the Union’s own nuclear baton saved us from complete destruction.

At the same time, Soviet scientists very quickly realized that a split atom is not only death, but also limitless possibilities in terms of energy. The first Soviet industrial nuclear reactor started working in the city of Obninsk already in 1954. The British came to a similar conclusion much later – the first two power units of the Hunterston station were commissioned only in 1976.

The seventies and eighties were the golden age of the British atom. Six of the seven nuclear power plants in operation today – Hunterston, Torness, Hartlepool, Heysham, Hinkey Point and Dungeness – were commissioned during this period. The last Sizewell nuclear power plant produced its first current in 1995, that is, today it is 25 years old, and its colleagues are either approaching or have already celebrated their 40th anniversary. At the heart of all stations are GCR (gas-cooled reactors) with an average installed capacity of 550-600 mega-watts, and at the moment they are deeply outdated. Sizewell already uses the PWR (pressurized water reactor), which corresponds to the Russian VVER counterpart, but it remains the only one of its kind.

It would be a mistake to think that London did not understand the prospects of this direction, but already at the beginning of the 2000s, a boom in shale gas began in the world, LNG production was growing rapidly – and Britain, which made an additional stake on renewable energy sources, fully satisfied its needs up to a certain point.

In parliament, however, there were talks about the need to build a separate nuclear power plant to meet the needs of London, as well as the Wylfa Newydd, Oldbury, Bradwell stations and the second power unit at the already mentioned Sizewell. But things did not go beyond paper drafts and sluggish debate. And there are many reasons for this.

Perhaps we need to start with the fact that the British today simply cannot build a nuclear power plant on their own. Speaking about the loss of the scientific base and the degradation of knowledge-intensive industries, we usually cite neighboring Ukraine as an example. The poorest country in Europe today, which started as an industrial leader thirty years ago. However, Great Britain is an example of the fact that even the presence of a huge amount of money does not guarantee the preservation of the scientific and technical base. It is one thing to deal with finance and judicial practice, and quite another to conduct constant scientific work. All the technical developments of the British on their own nuclear power plants are outdated today, and the team that commissioned the last Sizewell plant has mostly retired.

Realizing his infirmity, in 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron, in a meeting with Xi Jin-ping, asked for help reviving the British nuclear project. Beijing agreed, and the parties entered into a preliminary agreement, accor-ding to which the state-ow-ned China General Nuclear (CGN) was to complete the long-suffering power unit C at the Sizewell nuclear po-wer plant and supply two more reactors of its own de-sign at the Bradwell-on-Sea station. The Chinese also b-ought out a minority stake in the Hinkley Point station.

And then the most interesting thing began.

Whitehall initially agreed to allocate £ 20 billion for the construction of one Sizewell power unit, but all sorts of environmental organizations immediately stepped in, claiming that Beijing had come to the British Isles not to build a new one, but to store its own nuclear waste here.

China General Nuclear denied all accusations, but delays led to the fact that construction did not begin. And already last year London, faithful to its allied duty, with the outbreak of the US-China trade war, unilaterally terminated all agreements with Chinese nuclear scientists. Beijing, which was at the same time accused of suppressing democracy in Hong Kong and state support of Huawei corporation, loudly slammed the door, and since then interstate relations are far from friendly.

Another problem is that all the existing British nuclear power plants are now in private hands, which makes it extremely difficult from the point of view of legislation any attempts to finance or support them from the budget. Moreover, London simply physically lacks a plan for the development of the nuclear industry, which, coupled with the lost production and cooperation chains, makes any forecasting purely speculative.

It’s funny, but the authors of the initiative directly write that if Britain can still resume nuclear construction, then it needs to be prepared in advance for a war with organizations like Greenpeace. That is, those whom they fondly fostered and sponsored over the past years.

London’s concern is understandable and understandable. Let’s turn to the official statistics published on the website of the British government.

To meet its needs, the kingdom needs about 330 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, a tenth of which is imported from France. As of 2020, all nuclear plants with a total installed capacity of 8.1 gigawatts occupied 20 percent of the energy balance, while renewable sources are almost five times more – 47.8 gigawatts. This year has shown that renewable energy is, of course, very good and modern, but only traditional facilities can provide reliable supplies of electricity and heat to homes.

But what if natural gas takes new price heights every day, and coal is not far behind it?

There is only one way out – the energy of the atom, reliable, proven and allowing to build a planning horizon with a depth of half a century. The problem of the British, in addition to those already listed, is that all nuclear power plants there, without exception, were built with grandiose delays in time. For example, Dungeness was erected eighteen (1965-1983), and Heysham fourteen (1970-1984).

Electricity and heat are needed by the British yesterday – and how London will get out of this situation is still absolutely unclear.

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