Give Great British Nuclear the funding it needs to revive declining sector, industry boss warns
Jeremy Hunt needs to provide more clarity over the funding of Great British Nuclear (GBN) in the budget next week, the boss of the leading nuclear industry group has argued.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, has called on the Chancellor to give Great British Nuclear the capabilities to ramp up projects and meet the UK’s ambitious energy security targets.
He said: “The budget next week should give Great British Nuclear the funding and the powers to get new projects going and give us assets that will generate clean energy for the rest of this century. That’s what we did 60 years ago, and that’s what we need to do today.”
Downing Street is looking to slash the UK’s reliance on overseas vendors to meet its consumption needs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year and boost domestic power supplies.
GBN is a new initiative launched last year by the government to oversee the revival of the nuclear industry, with the government targeting boosting nuclear power from 7GW to 24GW over the next three decades as part of its energy security strategy.
Its role will include working with the industry and government to shortlist sites and develop a pipeline of projects to boost generation capacity.
Simon Bowen – who has previously overseen Babcock’s nuclear fleet and the UK’s nuclear submarines – was hired as the UK’s nuclear industry advisor around 10 months ago.
He raised concerns earlier this year over the lack of clear direction for GBN at a committee session with a body of MPs in Westminster.
Bowen said: “The piece that is missing for me at the moment is the overarching strategy. This is where [former] Prime Minister Johnson started, which is ‘We need energy security in the UK full stop’.”
When approached for comment, a government spokesperson said: “We will announce plans for the set-up of Great British Nuclear soon, but we are committed to backing it with appropriate funding to support projects and investment.
“Nuclear is a key part of securing greater energy security and independence, which is why we are committed to it. As demonstrated by Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps confirming £700m of Government investment in Sizewell C – the first investment of public funds in a nuclear project’s development since 1987.”
EDF extends lifespan of two nuclear power plants
Greatrex’s calls for GBN’s role to be reinforced follows EDF’s decision to extend the lifespan of two of its nuclear plants, giving the government more time to establish its protracted plans to revive the declining industry.
The French energy giant has opted to maintain operations at Heysham 1 and Hartlepool power stations for a further two years after a third lifetime review of the plants.
Both sites are now expected remain functional until March 2026, having previously been scheduled for a 2024 shutdown.
Geatrex welcomed today’s developments which he argued will “provide a huge boost to the UK’s short-term energy security.”
However, the nuclear boss believed the government needed to reaffirm its nuclear ambitions.
“Alongside life extensions for our existing stations, we still need a new fleet of large-scale and small-scale reactors to ensure our energy security for the long-term,” Greatrex said.
The UK’s ageing nuclear fleet is entirely operated by EDF and consists of eight nuclear power stations – all of which are set for decommission over the next two decades – which produce approximately 13 per cent of the UK’s electricity.
Last year, the fleet prevented around 15m tonnes of CO2 emissions a year from comparative gas generation, reflecting their significance in the UK’s push for net zero.
When EDF acquired the UK nuclear fleet in 2009, Heysham 1 and Hartlepool were due to stop generating in March 2014.
Two subsequent lifetime reviews (in 2010 and 2016) saw that extended by 10 years – and a third lifetime review has seen them expanded again.
Nevertheless, the fleet remains in a state of decline – with three stations already in the defuelling stage of the nuclear lifecycle (Hunterston B, Hinkley Point B, Dungeness B).
By March 2028, the remaining four stations are due to have ended generation (Hartlepool, Heysham 1, Torness and Heysham 2), removing around 4GW of low carbon electricity from the grid.
EDF is currently overseeing development of two new nuclear plants to revive the industry, with Hinkley Point C set for completion in 2027 while Sizewell C awaits a final investment decision before construction.
Hinkley Point C is £15bn over budget, with a construction cost estimated at £33bn, and is set to be completed two years over its deadline.
Both 3.2GW nuclear power plants are essential to Downing Street reaching its target of raising nuclear power generation, with growing concerns over whether Rolls-Royce’s small modular reactors will receive sufficient funding.