Why net zero needs nuclear to succeed
EDF Energy’s Sizewell B nuclear power station | Credit: EDF
New investment in large and small-scale nuclear will protect UK jobs, energy security and climate goals, says Nuclear APPG.
In its progress report to Parliament, the Climate Change Committee made it clear that if the UK has any hope of staying on track for net zero, it needs a lot more nuclear energy, and fast. By the middle of the next decade, two new large-scale nuclear stations at least, in addition to Hinkley Point C, would need to be operational, it said, restoring the UK’s nuclear capacity to around 10 gigawatts (GW).
It is a target that, if met, would not only cut emissions, but would also preserve the UK’s exceptional nuclear skills base, according to a new report by the Nuclear All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), Net Zero Needs Nuclear: A Roadmap to 2024. As its title suggests, the report argues that urgent decisions are needed in this Parliament if the potential of nuclear, large and small, to help meet our climate goals is to be realised. After all, most of Britain’s nuclear fleet will retire by March 2024, and all but one station by 2030.
The report makes 10 recommendations, the most important of which is for the Government to introduce legislation for a new nuclear financing model. Financing is the costliest part of new construction, so Government endorsement of a new model would drive investor confidence and make it cheaper to fund and build new stations including Sizewell in Suffolk. Supporting that station to Final Investment Decision in 2022 is another of the APPG’s recommendations. Importantly, so is establishing the necessary framework, again in 2022, for the deployment of a fleet of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), recognised for both its UK industrial and climate potential by the APPG (below is a CGI rendering of the UK SMR technology envisaged by the Rolls-Royce-led UK consortium - credit: Rolls-Royce). Investing boldly in modular reactors will help the UK become a global technology and export leader in a market of enormous potential and drive investment across the country.
If all these steps are delivered, the report estimates we could create more than 90,000 jobs and save more than 30 million tonnes of emissions per year by 2035. The numbers are staggering, but that is what nuclear offers. No other source of clean power has saved more emissions or sustained as many good quality jobs. But without new investment, job losses throughout the supply chain will accelerate to 2030, setting back the Government’s levelling up agenda. The UK would also lose 30% of its indigenous clean power generation, and its only source of firm power, which is essential to stabilising the grid. By 2035, emissions will be 200 million tonnes higher.
The UK cannot achieve its climate goals without a strong contribution from nuclear power
Even before any fleet retirements have taken effect, UK emissions are already higher in 2021 than in 2020, the first year on year increase since 2012. As grid demand is expected to surge even as coal is phased out, the UK cannot achieve its climate goals without a strong contribution from nuclear power. After all, nuclear is our only source of reliable, low-carbon, homegrown power. Only nuclear can replace nuclear: there is no other option.
About the authors: Ian Liddell-Grainger is Conservative MP for Bridgwater and Chair of the Nuclear APPG and Charlotte Nichols is Labour MP for Warrington North and Co-Chair of the Nuclear APPG
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