Waste nuclear heat could help revive UK commercial greenhouse usage – report

A new report by the Nuclear Futures Institute

An interdisciplinary team led by Dr Anita Crompton and funded by NERC, has been investigating the feasibility of using waste nuclear heat to decarbonise and stimulate a reversal in the decline of commercial greenhouse use in the UK.

‘Net Zero’ and the energy crisis have brought renewed interest in nuclear power as a low carbon energy source, with current construction projects underway, and a new fleet of nuclear power stations on the horizon. As a by-product of electricity generation, large amounts of heat are produced which is currently lost. This waste heat could provide the low carbon, low-cost heating needed by greenhouse growers to improve the economics of operations, whilst also allowing an expansion of edible horticulture, which could benefit the industry, UK consumers, and the environment.

Almost half the fresh fruit and vegetables consumed in the UK are imported to provide a year-round supply of the wide range of produce demanded by today’s consumers. The environmental impact of this varies and the results from issues such as fossil fuel use for transportation, heating, and fertiliser production, through to the effects of land clearance for farming, or the use of water in arid areas. The protected and highly controllable environment of greenhouses could allow much of this demand to be met domestically. Despite this, edible horticulture output in the UK fell in 2020 for the fifth year running.

Understanding the bigger picture

Drawing from four disciplines, this study sought to identify the full range of challenges that would determine the feasibility of expanding industrial greenhouse use in the UK by leveraging nuclear waste heat. This included the technical challenges of greenhouse heating, crop selection and growing environments, alongside the communicative challenges which would determine how this produce would be viewed by consumers, ultimately influencing their purchasing decision.

The study was carried out by Anita Crompton PDRA in Nuclear Co-generation, Vian Bakir, Professor of Journalism, Kami Koldewyn, Reader in Psychology, and Katherine Steel, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Crop Production, all from Bangor University.