No more delays – establishing Great British Nuclear needs to be a top priority
Creating a Minister for Nuclear is a welcome step from the Government. To make a real impact, Great British Nuclear must follow.
“The world’s climate objectives will not be met if nuclear technologies are excluded from decarbonisation policy solutions. So let’s get on with it.”
Those were the words of Graham Stuart, Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, as he quoted the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in his evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee in February. The announcement of the country’s first-ever Minister for Nuclear (Andrew Bowie MP) reflects the Government’s ambition that new gigawatt-scale and SMR projects will play a major role in reaching net zero by 2050.
From the reliable dependency on nuclear energy to satisfy our ever-growing need for electricity and the opportunities the nuclear industry provides outside the power sector (heat or hydrogen), investment in new nuclear is a no-regrets option.
It’s been nearly a year since Great British Nuclear was announced. It created the best opportunity the UK has had in 40 years to replace our nuclear fleet, which has been the foundation of our energy supply for decades and is coming to the end of its generating life.
However, we lose this opportunity if we do not establish Great British Nuclear in Q1 2023 and build on the increased enthusiasm from the Government for nuclear power. An independent review of the Government’s approach to net zero, ‘Mission Zero’ by Chris Skidmore, confirmed that ‘the main barrier for new nuclear projects is the need for stable, long term policy and funding commitments’. This is where Great British Nuclear comes in, alongside a dedicated Minister responsible for ensuring new nuclear.
The UK was the first country in the world to develop civil nuclear power plants, but by 2028, only Sizewell B from the existing fleet will be in operation. However, the UK risks repeating past mistakes by squandering its role as a leader in mini-nuclear reactor technology, the future of nuclear energy, to the USA and Canada.
When the industry waits for GBN to be set up, companies such as Rolls-Royce SMR risk being overtaken by SMR vendors in countries that have ordered their own sovereign technology. Doing so gives other nations the confidence to buy the reactors and export globally.
Rolls-Royce SMR Chief Executive, Tom Samson, said: “We’re making great progress towards our goal of deploying a fleet of factory-built power stations, in the UK and overseas. A positive demand signal from Government will show commitment to the UK’s sovereign nuclear technology and to addressing future energy security, while delivering against its net zero commitments.
“A fleet of Rolls-Royce SMRs, domestically and overseas, will bring enormous growth opportunities for the UK and we are ready to enter negotiations with Government to plan a route to deployment.”
First-mover advantage in SMRs by facilitating the domestic deployment and export of a UK-flagged reactor design will back British manufacturing and jobs, maximise export opportunities for British companies and build on the UK’s leadership on achieving net zero at home and abroad.
The cost of inaction will impact not just us but our collective futures – in the words of the UNECE, ‘let’s get on with it’; establish Great British Nuclear to ensure a practical plan to deliver a fleet of new projects (gigawatt-scale and SMR) and ensure the UK is a leader in future reactor technology that will provide significant economic prosperity, reduce consumer energy bills and deliver our Net Zero commitment.
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