“The low carbon challenge for the UK is far bigger than you think” stated Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. He spoke at a fringe meeting
A huge amount of investment in generating capacity was required, especially to power the UK’s transport sector, he said, speaking at a fringe meeting hosted by the
Nuclear Industry Association(NIA) and chaired by PoliticsHome Editor in Chief, Paul Waugh.
The low carbon electricity sector was going to be “huge” over the next three or four decades, Davey stated. However, he went on to argue that the UK required a mixed energy approach to solve the energy crisis, which should include greater energy efficiency for consumers, carbon capture and storage and new nuclear.
Davey said that whilst the UK aimed to build a more balanced and sustainable economy, there was now huge potential to move towards a green economy.
He referred to cross-departmental work with the Business Secretary Vince Cable who had published a strategy for off-shore wind and new nuclear. Davey said he was incredibly proud to visit Hull recently and see the Siemens expansion there which he called “the most important economic decision for Hull in a generation”.
This was only the beginning of growth in the energy sector, he said, with expansion planned for Sizewell, Hinkley and other sites creating in excess of 50,000 jobs. These would be jobs for young and old and offered huge potential, he said, highlighting how important it was to get young people trained up in the STEM subjects at school and university level.
Former Labour cabinet minister and chairman of the NIA, Lord Hutton thanked Davey’s team for a “sensible strategy” on nuclear.
He said the Liberal Democrats had done a fantastic job, with Davey “putting his leadership on the line developing a new strategy with a focus on nuclear energy”.
“For us in the industry there is not just concern with new build” Lord Hutton said, “but the funding required to expand”. He added that electricity market reform and improved loan capacity had help further expansion in the sector.
He said he hoped the UK was able to bring together the necessary investment because tens of thousands of new jobs were at stake.
The UK faced a “huge challenge” because it hasn’t built a new nuclear reactor for 20 years, he said; “the best part of a generation”.
Lord Hutton said he wanted to maximise UK skilled jobs and to help as many small businesses as possible through the supply chain. He was working very closely with government on the Nuclear Industry Council set up by Cable, he said, and specifically focussed on skills and cost reduction.
Addressing the issue of a geological disposal facility (GDF), Lord Hutton said a decision had to be made on what to do with plutonium.
“We have got to make a very big decision soon – and we hope the spending review will help – do we want to be a premier league nuclear player or not” he said. “I very much hope that we do, but we will need UK based reactor technology”.
He went on to say that the UK leads the world on decommissioning and that there was plenty of this coming up in the next few years for the UK to take on.
He argued that nuclear was the cheapest of all low-carbon technologies. “We can really compete internationally and lay the foundations for an industrial renaissance.”
Paul Spence, director of strategy and corporate affairs at EDF, said he came to the discussion from a company perspective and his company was primarily concerned with what the customer wanted. In this case, this was “how can we keep the lights on”.
He was excited by the Hinkley Point expansion which he said would employ 5,500 people and offer a total of 25,000 job opportunities during the course of the project. This would be a huge opportunity for Somerset and the South West he added, both in supplying the site and in the new skills provided for operating the equipment and work in the plant once it was operational.
57% of the construction, supply and labour force would be from the UK, Spence said, and EDF was investing in training through expansion of Bridgwater College, with many jobs being created if Brussels agreed to the Hinkley Point expansion.
Despite not having had a final decision yet, he described how EDF was getting the site ready with large diggers and 50 tonne bulldozers removing material from the old power station.
“We are ready for this enormous project”.