How to keep the nuclear drive going
Our next Prime Minister must realise that nuclear is key to our long term energy security.
The incoming Prime Minister will have energy issues right at the top of their intray. Issues which have been left unaddressed for too long are now urgent, with action required for the long term. Curbing record bills, eliminating emissions and guaranteeing energy security requires the most significant nuclear power programme this country has ever seen.
That programme is necessary to end our dependence on imported gas, the cause of the current crisis. Gas prices have leapt through the roof, taking power prices and household bills with them. Our electricity supply is now shaky and expensive: this August saw record electricity prices, 10 times the level we saw just two years ago. In July, the UK had to pay Belgium nearly £10,000 per mega-watt hour, 50 times the normal price, just to avoid a blackout in the south-east. And summer months are when power demand is at its lowest.
Nuclear has to be used to shake our gas addiction. Only nuclear provides clean, always-on and British power. The combination of sustainability, reliability and sovereignty is essential if we are to prevent crises and ensure reliable and price predictable supply. We therefore neednuclear as the backbone of our electricity system, working alongside renewables in a robust low-carbon mix.
Fortunately, we have the blueprint on how to do this in Great British Nuclear, being put in place by government to accelerate nuclear deployment and bring the 24GW of nuclear anticipated in the Energy Security Strategy onto the bars. The vision needs to be implemented.
Their first step must be to move forward with Sizewell C. We cannot have a credible nuclear programme without our most mature and advanced project that replicates a design already being built. The Suffolk project will show investors, companies and communities that when we say we are going to build more, we mean it.
Another step to restore trust in our intent to deliver is to label nuclear as green in the long-awaited UK Sustainable Investment Taxonomy. The science is crystal clear: nuclear has the lowest lifecycle carbon intensity, the lowest land use, and the lowest impact on ecosystems of any electricity generating technology, according to the UN. It deserves the green label alongside other low carbon sources of power.
The UK taxonomy should follow the science and define which investments are sustainable, or “green”. It will guide the private sector toward the projects that will help this country fight the climate crisis, as well as the energy crisis. With the green label, nuclear projects will gain access to the widest possible pool of capital at cheaper rates. That will help get new stations built faster and minimise costs to the consumer.
With access to finance in hand, Sizewell C should be the first in a new programme of large and small-scale nuclear deployment, including a fleet of Rolls Royce Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and making use of the best sites, such as Wylfa in North Wales. The best way to deploy nuclear quickly and effectively is to build in fleets, that is, constructing multiple reactors of the same design on multiple sites across the country.
Every site earmarked for new nuclear in the country should get a site deployment roadmap, that lays out what will be built, when it will be built, who will build it, and how it will be paid for. Clear planning like that will give the nuclear industry and supply chain the framework to invest for the long-term in the people and the equipment they need to deliver new nuclear plants. It also gives the host communities the certainty that they deserve and the ability to plan themselves to take full advantage of the new opportunities that will come their way.
We should remember that the places that have had nuclear power stations are the most supportive of new development. The power stations have provided good, long-term, well-paying stable jobs around which people can build lives and families, and they have been great sources of local pride as well. The workers operating those stations know that they have played a key role in keeping this country warm and light.
In Wylfa and Trawsfynydd in North Wales, Moorside in Cumbria, Hartlepool in the North East and Hunterston in Western Scotland, we have communities that want new stations to replace those that closed down. In Hartlepool and Heysham by Morecambe Bay, we have communities facing imminent station retirements that want to know if new projects will materialise. This is the front line of levelling up: if we can deliver a serious programme of nuclear construction, each one of these places should get a new project with thousands of jobs and billions of pounds in investment on offer.
These communities will look to the new Prime Minister and expect them to decide if Britain is a great nuclear nation or not, one that is prepared to make the serious commitments required for energy security, or one that will swerve it and risk more energy shocks in years to come. The blueprint is there, waiting for the leadership to get it done.
Tom Greatrex is the Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.