Committing to new nuclear means committing to a more secure energy future
HM Queen Elizabeth II opening Calder Hall in 1956 | Credit: Sellafield Ltd
If we have learnt anything from the past few months, it's that we need long-term solutions to prevent the energy crisis happening again.
“This new power, which has proved itself to be such a terrifying weapon of destruction, is harnessed for the first time for the common good of our community.”
Those were the words of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II when she opened Calder Hall in 1956, the world’s first commercial nuclear power plant. Since then, the UK has built dozens of power reactors, with many more in research and development.
Today we have nine in operation, with four more due to come offline in two years. By 2028, in all likelihood, we’ll be left with just one – Sizewell B, which began generating electricity in the 1990s.
At a time when we need every single watt of secure, sovereign and clean power plugged into the Grid as possible, we are losing our nuclear fleet to retirement. This should not be a surprise to anybody – the current fleet has been the backbone of our power mix since the 1970s but, after lifetime extensions resulting in them producing significantly more electricity than originally envisaged, they are inevitably coming to the end of their generating lives.
Only one new power plant is currently under construction, Hinkley Point C. With the years of delay to getting permission to start building, the opportunity to have had Hinkley and other plants coming online just as the current fleet was retiring has been missed. Had we got on with it sooner, consumer bills could have been £3bn lower from just Hinkley alone.
Even with the high levels of support the government are putting in place for households and businesses, many will struggle to pay for the power they need. The more nuclear power we have, the lesser the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices would be as the root cause of global inflation, and other consequent economic impacts.
The cost of inaction, complacency, and taking energy security for granted are all rolled into one uncomfortable truth – we knew over a decade ago that this could happen.
Had we got on with it sooner, consumer bills could have been £3bn lower from just Hinkley alone.
That is why, as the Prime Minister has stated, the extraordinary action on current bills needs also to be matched with a sense of purpose and urgency in delivering our future, secure, reliable power mix so we are not in the same position again in years to come.
Her announcement of the imminent launch of Great British Nuclear is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a legacy of energy security, while giving the UK the best possible chance of reaching net zero. All this, while once again becoming world-leaders in advanced nuclear technologies, be it small modular reactors, next generation reactors for decarbonising steel and heavy transport, or realising the full potential of nuclear fusion.
There is no one silver bullet to the energy crisis, but there is a very real opportunity now to have both a more resilient and price-predictable system for the future while building engineering, construction and technological capacity that will drive economic activity at home, and into markets around the world. Having the courage and foresight to move boldly now will pay dividends for generations to come.
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