UK Shuts Down Nuclear Reactor, Once World’s Most Powerful

(REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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The United Kingdom began decommissioning one of the world’s most powerful nuclear reactors Wednesday.

The Wylfa Nuclear Power Station generated 1,000 megawatts of electricity at its peak and powered up to 2.4 million homes.

The company which owns the nuclear plant announced shutting down the reactor will cost 165 jobs by May 2016. The company will retain 357 employees to help decommission the site and remove unused nuclear fuel. This process is expected to take roughly three years.

Another company plans to construct four to six new reactors near the site. If the U.K. government approves the project, the new reactors could be online by the mid-2020s. The new reactors could generate up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity. New nuclear reactor designs are much safer and actually emit less radiation than coal plants.

The high costs of new nuclear construction, competition from cheaper natural-gas, and political difficulties from the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster have hampered the nuclear industry in recent years.

Such difficulties have led to a broad shift away from nuclear power across much of Europe, particularly in Germany, where the government decided to abandon nuclear energy entirely.

In the year 2000, nuclear power made up 29.5 percent of Germany’s energy. By 2015, that share has dropped down to 17 percent. By 2022, Germany intends to shutdown every one of its nuclear plants. The German government estimates the cost of replacing nuclear power with wind and solar is estimated to be over one trillion euros without any assurances the program will actually reduce emissions.

In fact, nuclear power’s decline in Europe has created an opening for coal power. Coal now provides 44 percent of  Germany’s power. This shift caused Germany’s CO2 emissions to actually rise by 28 million tons each year.

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