Why net zero needs nuclear to ensure a smooth road to 2050
For nuclear to play its full role as the UK strives for net zero, the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre say we need to bring forward the latest technology, including small modular reactors (SMRs)
Without nuclear there is a risk that the UK’s net zero ambitions could be out of reach. The time for action is now.
There’s one big stumbling block on the UK’s road to net zero emissions by 2050 – we’re set to lose almost all our current sources of reliable low-carbon electricity in the next few years.
The UK’s current nuclear fleet provides around two-fifths of low-carbon generation, but more than half of this capacity will disappear from the grid by 2024, and the rest by the mid-30s.
The closure of ageing reactors such as Dungeness B is far from unexpected, but it is a serious blow to our decarbonisation efforts. We’ve talked endlessly about the need for new nuclear power over the past 15 years, but only one project – Hinkley Point C in Somerset – has actually started construction. We cannot continue to delay.
Renewables have a huge role to play in the future energy mix, but we still need a large portion of firm power to balance the variability of wind and solar – and nuclear is still the only proven low-carbon way of doing that.
Without new nuclear, we face rising carbon emissions and energy costs, as well as the loss of skilled jobs in some of the most economically challenged parts of the country. That’s why I’ve worked closely with MPs and industry partners to understand what needs to happen in the current Parliament to allow nuclear to play its full part in the future energy mix.
The roadmap to 2024, released last month by the APPG on Nuclear Energy, sets out 10 key actions such as legislating for a new financing model to reduce the hurdles that face infrastructure investment on this scale. That should unlock new build at Sizewell C in Suffolk, and at least one further gigawatt-scale project elsewhere.
Without nuclear working alongside renewables and a host of other technologies, we have next to no chance of reaching net zero emissions
Investing in new nuclear offers greater economic benefits than any other power technology – and with around 90 per cent of the UK’s nuclear jobs based outside London and the South East, that can be a powerful tool for levelling up the regions. For nuclear to play its full role in the low-carbon economy, we also need to bring new kinds of reactor to market – including small modular reactors (SMRs) which are based on current reactor technology, but designed to be much more flexible and affordable.
At the Nuclear AMRC, we are working with Rolls-Royce and other partners through the UK SMR Consortium which aims to have its first compact power station in operation around 2030. Up to 80 per cent by value of components will be made in factories in the Midlands and North of England, creating some 6,000 jobs by 2025, and 40,000 by 2035.
And net zero emissions isn’t just about decarbonising electricity generation. Thanks to nuclear’s unique combination of electricity and heat, new reactors can also power industrial decarbonisation, hydrogen production and district heating.
Without nuclear working alongside renewables and a host of other technologies, we have next to no chance of reaching net zero emissions. But we need to take action now to ensure a smooth road to 2050.
Andrew Storer is CEO of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult
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