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Mon, 3 August 2020

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Laying the pathway to Net Zero

Laying the pathway to Net Zero

Nuclear Industry Association

3 min read Member content

To reach Net Zero we could be looking at the quadrupling of nuclear capacity, writes Ieuan Williams, Public Affairs Manager at the Nuclear Industry Association. 


Ever since the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommended the UK adopt a Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, much has been made of how we get there.

The report itself states this commitment requires a completely decarbonised energy system, one that sees our cars charged and homes heated by electricity, with hydrogen also playing a big role as a decarbonised gas where electrification isn’t practical.

Behind the CCC’s assertions were hundreds of pages of technical reports and annexes, detailing what we should, and more importantly should not, rely on to get us to Net Zero.

Dominating the electricity mix, according to the CCC, will of course be renewables. However, due to their inherent variability, they should only be relied upon for 57% of our generation, with 38% being ‘firm low carbon power like nuclear’, and 5% from hydrogen.

Nuclear has been providing low carbon electricity to UK homes since 1956, and currently generates just under 20% of our electricity. To double this share will be quite the task, especially when demand itself is also due to double. Therefore, to reach Net Zero we could be looking at the quadrupling of nuclear capacity.

If we are serious about looking forward to reaching this target, it’s prudent to see where we’ve come from.

Nuclear is by no means a new industry, its story is long and complex, with compelling characters and several ups and downs.

Amongst more recent struggles is keeping an innovative, world-leading supply chain in suspended animation while projects are held in limbo or scrapped altogether. Continuous false-starts and a needlessly costly financing framework is reflected in the price of getting first-of-a-kind developments off the ground, but these are solvable issues.

The upcoming Energy White Paper is the perfect chance to inspire confidence in the sector, creating a compelling vision to bind the industry together, and a pathway to significant cost reductions, building on commitments within the Industrial Strategy.

Readers may be familiar with the idea of Small Modular Reactors, or SMRs, then so-called 4th Gen Advanced Reactors, followed by every nation’s ultimate goal, Nuclear Fusion.

These technologies represent the exciting future of the nuclear industry; however, such nascent designs will not become reality by sitting around and waiting for them to mature into viable, deployable options. The industry must be sustained in the meantime, and we must capitalise on the large-scale power generation that’s available today.

The nuclear new build supply chain just about survived the wait between Sizewell B’s commissioning in 1995 to Hinkley Point C’s final go-ahead decision.

Any hiatus in our current pipeline of new build projects will see crucial skills and talent retire or leave the sector altogether; investment will turn away, bringing our rich tale to a swift and concise ending.

Collectively this industry can do it both, get on with building Wylfa Newydd, Sizewell C, Bradwell B and beyond; while in parallel developing the next generation of nuclear technologies and skills, simultaneously rebalancing the economy, guaranteeing our energy security, and making Net Zero by 2050 look easy.

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