Sizing up the opportunity: How Great British Nuclear can enable the critical infrastructure we need
Following the Government Investment Decision on Sizewell C, the Nuclear Industry Association's Chief Executive, Tom Greatrex, sets out why Great British Nuclear is another positive step in the right direction.
The announcement of the Government Investment Decision on Sizewell C is particularly timely, with fossil gas making up 65% of our power mix, eerily still weather, and National Grid’s Electricity Systems Operator having again had to issue capacity margin notices in the days before.
It could, and arguably should, have been more timely. Had we begun building new nuclear capacity a decade ago, our current situation would be less severe.
Getting anywhere close to our target of 24GW by 2050 means we need to do more than ever before, with increased urgency and focus than has historically been the case with fragmented, delay-dominated and tardy decision making on nuclear power.
Avoiding repetition of these mistakes of the past is the rationale for Great British Nuclear.
It’s fair to say that it’s been a turbulent few years for the nuclear industry. Since the final go-ahead for Hinkley Point C in 2016, two mega-projects at Moorside in Cumbria and Wylfa on Anglesey have fallen by the wayside, having spent billions of pounds with nothing to show for it.
The Sizewell C announcement is, of course, very welcome; but to meet the requirements of the Energy Security Strategy, much more is needed. Hinkley and Sizewell will not replace the existing fleet gigawatt-for-gigawatt, which is mostly retiring this decade. Put simply, if we are to reach Net Zero by 2050, we must proceed with a pipeline of both gigawatt-scale and SMR developments.
This is where Great British Nuclear comes in. Setting up this arm's length body will help take projects through every stage of the development process, while ensuring value for money for the taxpayer and consumer. Therefore, the confirmation that the Government will back Great British Nuclear with funding to enable this pipeline of projects, is also very welcome.
By having a centralised, dedicated team of professionals in nuclear licencing, engineering and financing, we can streamline not only the expertise, but also the processes to get projects to Final Investment Decision.
It’s been nearly ten years since the National Infrastructure Commission’s Sir John Armitt called for an Olympics-style delivery body to enable a world class nuclear industry, so it’s good to see that our critical infrastructure is finally being treated as such.
As we head into what could be a particularly difficult winter on the energy markets, it is right that every possible action be taken to insulate customers from extortionate bills in the short term.
However, each action must be matched with long-term driven decisions to ensure we never find ourselves in this position again, and the multi-billion ECO+ scheme is a major part of that effort. In addition, we must ensure that the foundation of the system is built on home-grown, sovereign assets.
Alongside renewables, the always-on, reliable dependency of nuclear energy has a major role to play in getting us to net zero. The vast consensus of expert opinion agrees, and is reflected in the Government’s own 24GW target.
Great British Nuclear could be just the ticket to making sure the people of Anglesey and Cumbria get the investment they’ve so desperately needed, and other communities in England and North Wales see the benefits of the rollout of Small Modular Reactors.
As for Sizewell C? That’s just the beginning.
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