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Great British Energy: Delivering nuclear for net-zero

Nuclear Industry Association

5 min read Partner content

Last week at Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, the Nuclear Industry Association held a fringe event discussion about how Great British Energy can help deliver nuclear energy for net-zero.

The panel was chaired by Bloomberg’s Rachel Morison and made up of the new Shadow Minister for Clean Power and Consumers, Jeff Smith MP; Co-Chair of the APPG on Nuclear Energy, Charlotte Nichols MP; GMB Union National Secretary, Andy Prendergast; and the NIA’s Tom Greatrex.

Opening the discussion, Tom Greatrex, who is Chief Executive of the NIA, emphasised that we would need to be as clean and green as possible to reach our 2030 target, but also warned that we need to be able to continue to deliver after 2030 to the 2050s and beyond. To do this, we will need a wide range of low carbon zero emission energy sources and nuclear can provide a big chunk of the clean, reliable, secure electricity that we need, he argued. Greatrex said that the industry would want to work with an incoming government to be able to deliver this ‘not only because it's important for jobs, growth and energy security, but also because it’s important for the future of the planet and our wider environment’.

The new Shadow Minister for Clean Power and Consumers, Jeff Smith MP, echoed this by talking about the four crises the country faces: the cost of living crisis, the climate crisis, the jobs crisis and the energy security crisis. He believes that clean, homegrown energy is the answer and that nuclear has a key role to play. Charlotte Nichols MP, Co-Chair of the APPG on Nuclear Energy, agreed that “there is no credible path to net-zero without new nuclear”.

In reference to the Shadow Chancellor’s speech earlier in the week, and a theme that was prevalent around Labour Party Conference this year, Smith reiterated that the party would be “the builders not the blockers” in regard to the major national infrastructure projects that will be needed to transition to clean energy.

This is why Labour say that if they win the next election they will set up Great British Energy to give industry and investors the confidence they need to invest in clean power. Smith explained, “if you've got a public stake in that investment that gives the assurance and the incentive to the private sector to invest. So the idea is to work in partnership with the private sector, working together to bring forward the investment that we need”.

But what does the nuclear industry need from Great British Energy, and any incoming government? Whilst Greatrex was reassured to hear the Shadow Minister recommit to absorbing Great British Nuclear into Great British Energy, he emphasised the need for a clear direction from government that the industry can respond to, saying that “what we need is a programme and we need this programme to be driven because once you have a programme that's driven that's when people will invest”.

Nichols followed this by making the point that government should be setting the strategic direction. Whilst she acknowledged the tight fiscal position that Labour would inherit if they won the general election, she argued that an industrial strategy was needed just as much as direct investment from the government. Nichols went on to suggest that Great British Energy’s role would be to be a strategic enabler across the energy sector, allowing different technologies and industries to work together as one. By outlining a plan and sticking to it “we can create the stability and investment confidence we need” to reach targets like 24 gigawatts of nuclear by 2050, she reiterated.

Speaking from a Union perspective, Andy Prendergast, a GMB Union National Secretary, said that Great British Energy had the opportunity to give that regulatory certainty of government support. This will be crucial to giving business the certainty to make the investments that we are desperately in need of as “we are going to need the output of British nuclear energy, the skills it produces, the jobs in the industries it supports”, he pointed out.

In this view, Prendergast also stressed the need to give certainty to workers as he warned that people are being locked out of the process and are not seeing the benefits that nuclear can bring, ultimately leading to a skills gap in the industry.

He argued that we should follow the example of Denmark, where they have transformed oil and gas communities into communities leading the way in green technology. He pointed out that green energy now accounts for 14% of Denmark’s exports and that this demonstrates how important it is to take communities with you through this process.

Nichols, whose constituency of Warrington North has a large nuclear sector, argued that we need “real policy about how we take the public with us, being honest with people about the trade-offs that are going to be necessary to get to net zero” but also that the industry needed to explain to the public the benefits of nuclear.

Whilst we stand to lose a substantial amount of our generation capacity over the coming years, Prendergast is optimistic and believes that we can turn this around to go back to leading an industry that “we fundamentally created in the first place”.

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