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The path to net-zero splits the atom

Lincoln Hill, Director of Policy & External Affairs

Lincoln Hill, Director of Policy & External Affairs | Nuclear Industry Association

3 min read Partner content

The United Kingdom needs a historic programme of nuclear construction to reach net-zero. Nuclear offers clean, reliable, sovereign power, alongside skilled, long-term jobs. Lincoln Hill, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the Nuclear Industry Association, writes that the new government should choose reactor designs, build fleets of them, and keep on building to deliver this programme as quickly and cheaply as possible

The UK, led by its new government, should embark on a major new nuclear programme to forge our path to net-zero. A nuclear programme would deliver a bedrock of clean, reliable, affordable and secure energy for our country and hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs to build a green economy.

Nuclear uniquely offers clean, reliable, sovereign power all in one; long-term investment on which nuclear workers can build up their communities; and the lowest lifecycle carbon use, the lowest lifecycle land use, and the least impact on natural ecosystems of any electricity source.1

Successive governments have demurred, fearing the prize would take too long and cost too much to reach. Fortune, however, favours the brave: going big and going bold is the cheapest and fastest way to build nuclear. To take one example, on New Year’s Day 1980, the French had 34 reactors under construction at once. They finished six reactors that year, all in less than six years’ construction time. In that era, the French built 58 reactors in total: 85 per cent of them were replicas of previous designs.2 Those were some of the cheapest reactors ever built in the West.

The motto was set design, build, and repeat. That approach, adopted 50 years ago, to this day gives France the cleanest power in the G7, electricity prices half that of the Germans',3 and billions of euros in export earnings, including from gas-dependent Britain.

The lesson is not, therefore, do not build. The lesson is to set reactor designs, replicate them, and never stop building.

The new government must apply that model. In specific terms, they should get Sizewell C to a Final Investment Decision this autumn; that project would be the first genuine replica nuclear plant in this country’s history and a litmus test of whether or not we have learned the lessons of successful nuclear programmes worldwide.

The Hinkley Point C project has shouldered the burden of reactivating our dormant industry, generating both good jobs and valuable lessons that we would be fools to throw away. But two projects are not a programme: the new government should also press on with a third large-scale project at Wylfa, potentially the largest inward investment in Welsh history, and with a fleet of Small Modular Reactors. If we realise our stated ambition to deploy up to 24 GW of nuclear, we will eliminate our gas dependence for power entirely; cut 75m tonnes of emissions per year; and create 200,000 jobs, perhaps more.

That is an investment we cannot afford to shirk. Continued energy security and fossil fuel dependence cost the government £56bn just to get us through the winter of 2022-23.

That cannot be our future, but it will be without nuclear. With nuclear in the mix, alongside a programme of renewable investment, the prize not just of net-zero but of a sustainable green economy will be within reach. It is the prize of the century, and it is ours to take.

This article was originally published in The Path To Net Zero supplement circulated alongside The House magazine. To find out more visit The Path To Net Zero hub.

1. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Carbon Neutrality in the UNECE Region: Integrated Life-cycle Assessment of Electricity Sources, 2022

2. World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in France

3. Eurostat, Electricity price statistics

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