Over the past few years the nuclear industry has been quietly confident about the future. With significant operation and decommissioning work, and new build in on the horizon, it has moved from a ‘sunset industry’ to one with a bright future.
However, although operating plants have been privatised and new build is being financed from private investment, parts of the industry are still dependant on government spending. This includes the UKs legacy nuclear sites, much of which was hastily built in the Cold War.
The cost of these decommissioning activities are borne by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and make up 60% of its budget. It is not ring-fenced from Government cuts.
Maintaining the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA) budget is essential in order to make progress on a complex, multi-generational task. We have made significant progress in nuclear clean-up in recent years. Cutting the budget now will result in a small immediate financial saving, but in the long-term more will have to be spent.
As we have all felt recently, boom and bust economics is not a brilliant financial model. By cutting funding to the NDA now, we risk damaging the vital supply chain that helps the NDA function. The nuclear industry employs over 60,000 people, many of whom work in the supply chain; a cut would put these jobs at risk.
Decommissioning sites also boosts their local economies, for example, £80 million a year is estimated to go back into the local economy around Dounreay, 10% of the GDP of the north Highlands of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.
Moreover, by being a conscientious owner of legacy nuclear sites we are world leaders in decommissioning. Our industry has developed technologies, skills and services we can export when other countries start their decommissioning activities.
We do need to ensure we maintain the Government’s commitments on R&D spending. Ensuring the UK nuclear sector continues to be a world-leader means we need a robust R&D programme. Through investing in R&D now, the UK will be able to reap the rewards and ensure we have access to the best nuclear technologies.
This R&D shouldn’t just be around waste management, but also looking at the exciting opportunities to develop new types of reactors, such as Small Modular Reactors.
We, in the UK, have 140 tonnes of plutonium stockpiled, which costs £80 million a year to maintain. This plutonium is an energy resource because it can be used as a nuclear fuel. A decision on plutonium in the CSR will give the industry certainty on its future and allow it to develop solutions.
In the long term research into so called generation IV reactors could provide future generations with cheap, safe and clean energy.
Regardless of the government’s decision in the coming weeks nuclear decommissioning has to take place, deferring it will cost more in the future. We propose the government continues its commitment to making safe the legacy of early nuclear development and invests in ensuring secure, low carbon, affordable energy for generations to come.