For 65 years, nuclear power has been an integral part of the UK’s electricity system, providing low carbon and reliable power to UK homes, public services and businesses.
However, there is much work to be done in modernising and increasing nuclear capacity if the UK is to keep the lights on and hit net zero carbon emissions.
New build projects bring real economic benefits and can help transform the life chances of people in nearby communities: Hinkley Point C alone has delivered more than £4 billion of investment into the South West of England, and more than 8,000 people are now working on site, with 1,000 apprentices trained.
Coupled with the progress being made in decommissioning, projects like this have helped develop UK industrial skills and capabilities across the supply chain.
There is also a significant opportunity for the sector to be world leaders in the development of Small Modular Reactors, a global market which could be worth hundreds of billions of pounds.
Figures show that around 15% of total electricity produced in Britain comes from nuclear power, down from around a fifth in 2016. And with two thirds of all dispatchable power capacity retiring by 2030, including all but one of our current nuclear stations, this will need to be replaced and expanded with a new nuclear fleet.
Dr Tim Stone, chairman of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, says to “enable” this, the government must “pump prime” a programme of new build nuclear reactors to attract private finance to the industry to help it meet the UK’s energy needs and help build the infrastructure around it.
Without a clear nuclear strategy, the UK will become less competitive globally as organisations like Google and Microsoft, whose servers are power-hungry, will move to countries where they can site Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) to power their servers he says.
If the government gave the green light, up to eight new SMRs could be built every year, starting in around 2030 and adding up to around 3.2 gigawatts of energy to the grid annually, but only if the state played its part in enabling the programme to begin.
“I’m absolutely certain,” he told City AM that, “as an ex-banker, it can all be done in the private sector, but you’ve got to build a process for getting all the planning done and perhaps even with the next government cleaning the planning system up.”
“And it really fundamentally comes back to, what is the irreducible role of the state. There are some things the state has to make sure happens, it doesn’t have to do it, but it has to make sure it happens.”
Dr Stone continued, “countries like China and America are leading the world in ramping up their nuclear energy capacity, other countries like Canada and Australia are also “waking up to it” while sadly, the UK is rapidly falling behind the rest of the world.
“That’s the hard reality of it. And the blockage is lack of a clear nuclear programme.”