Over the past few years, climate change and sovereignty concerns have abruptly pushed nuclear energy back on the agenda. End of 2023, at COP28, over 20 countries pledged to triple global nuclear capacity by 2050. The required scale of deployment is unprecedented.

Historically, the sharpest increase was 20 GW annually, sustained over a decade. We must maintain a rate of 30 GW annually for almost three decades straight. France plans to build six new reactors to fulfil this engagement and is seriously considering a further eight. Sweden will build two large-scale reactors by 2035 and the equivalent of ten new reactors by 2045. The list goes on, with news of bullish ambitions succeeding one another. 

Should we fear a NIMBY (not in my backyard) response to all these announcements? To answer this question, let us dive into EDF’s 2024 socio-economic impact report for Hinkley Point C, a nuclear power plant in construction in Somerset, in South-West England. 

Construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant started in March 2017. It suffered several delays, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic but, more plainly, due to its “first of a kind” aspect. The reactors are part of the new EPR design, of which only four have ever been built–Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, Taïshan 1 and 2 in China, and Flamanville 3 in France. Moreover, the lessons learned from one site to the next are unfortunately quite limited regarding the differences in regulatory approaches between countries. The UK Office for Nuclear Regulation requested around 7,000 design modifications, substantial enough to lead to Hinkley Point C needing 25% more concrete and 35% more steel. 

Delays aside, what impact does the construction of Hinkley Point C have on the region? 

Apart from some activities related to the defence industry, the economic life of this rural county is mainly driven by agriculture, clothing, and stone quarrying. Coal mining was a significant occupation in the region until the last pit was closed in 1973. Hinkley Point C brought new life to this status quo. 

First, it created jobs. Specifically, the construction site created 23,500 jobs, and the local employment growth is twice that of the rest of the South West. Second, it provided training. Dedicated “Centres of Excellence” were created for welding, electrical and mechanical work, and 8,000 were trained, one-third of which came from Britain’s most deprived areas. An additional 1,320 apprentices were trained in other skills, such as hospitality or accounting. Third, it boosted entrepreneurship. The growth of medium-sized companies in the district area is ten times higher than anywhere else in the South West. A total of £5.3 billion has been spent directly with regional businesses–vastly exceeding the original target of £1.5 billion. Last but not least, it rejuvenated the population by offering a future for the younger generation. Populations aged 25 to 39 grew by 25% in the area, three times greater than the national average. 

In light of these elements, is having a nuclear power plant as a neighbour a good thing? 

According to a survey published in June 2022, yes. It focused on residents within a 10-mile radius around 52 operational plants across the USA, excluding households with nuclear workers, to avoid conflicts of interest. It concluded that 88% of the neighbours of nuclear power plants are favourable to nuclear energy. Even better, 91% hold a favourable impression of their local power plant, and 78% would find a new reactor acceptable at the plant site. This was the ninth survey of a series that started in 2005, always showing similar enthusiasm and support. 

Why such a high support rate? 

First, as exemplified by Hinkley Point C, a nuclear power plant means “good jobs for local people at the plant and in local businesses that provide services to the plant”—a statement from the survey that 92% of the respondents agreed with. A typical 1 GWe nuclear reactor requires approximately 500 workers for operations and maintenance, almost all of whom will be within 20 km. Episodic events, such as refuelling, will require 200 to 600 temporary workers. On top of these comes the much larger number of workers in the supply chain, research, or even safety authorities. In France, for example, the nuclear industry represents over 220.000 employees. 

The resurgence of nuclear energy will multiply examples such as Hinkley Point C. The French Nuclear Industry Association (GIFEN) declared that meeting the government’s ambitious agenda would require up to 100,000 new workers to join the sector over the next ten years. The joint statement for the Nuclear Alliance meeting on the 16th of May states 450,000 new employments in the EU over the next 30 years. 

Second, these jobs are safe. In the nuclear sector, workers’ safety is tracked by the industrial safety accident rate, which measures the number of employee accidents that result in loss of work time, restricted work, or fatalities per 200,000 workers’ hours, which is roughly equivalent to 100 full-time workers during one year. In the US, this indicator declined from 0.38 accidents per 200,000 hours in 1997 to 0.00 in 2019 and 2020. In other words, there were virtually no accidents. At the global level, the World Association of Nuclear Operators reports that almost 90% of the plants met the target of 0.50, with encouraging improvements over time. That is not as good as the US, but still outstanding.

Another exciting safety metric is the incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses. In 2021, there were 2.9 per 200,000 workers hours across the US for all industries, including private, state, and local government. The same metric was 1.7 when zooming in on utilities only, which is already significantly reduced. Amazingly, it was only 0.2 for nuclear electric power generation—the same as legal services and telephone call centres.

Lastly, a nuclear power plant represents a series of benefits for local communities. For example, the municipality of Huy, in Belgium, receives up to 13 million euros per year from the Tihange nuclear power plant—over a quarter of the municipality’s annual budget. In the US, local taxes and fees on a nuclear power plant can represent over half of the county and school budgets. Hinkley Point C has a  £20 million  Community Fund and organises free community buses to connect Somerset’s rural areas. Coincidentally, evidence indicates that home values increase with the opening of nuclear facilities in the area. 

A clean, abundant, reliable, low-carbon electricity source that provides safe jobs and supports local communities. The appropriate response to so many benefits is yes, in my backyard! 

whois: Andy White Freelance WordPress Developer London