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By Tom Sasse
By Tom Sasse
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Nuclear power is essential to delivering our Net-Zero targets

Nuclear power is essential to delivering our Net-Zero targets
4 min read

We must start tackling the crisis in the UK's future energy supply - nuclear and renewables can deliver a secure, low carbon system and meet growing electricity demand, writes Lord West.

The government appears complacent and is not tackling the crisis in future energy supply that is hanging over our nation. As the old nuclear power stations come to the end of their lives and coal plants are closed down, in less than a decade the crisis will be upon us.

The plan that one third of energy needs would be met by nuclear are clearly in disarray and there has to be real doubt over whether renewables can fill the gap.

It is unfortunate that successive governments squandered the world lead we had in civil nuclear power generation to the extent that our nation cannot even build a large nuclear power plant without foreign expertise. It is hard to remember that our greatest exports to Japan for a number of years were nuclear products, equipment and IP. Now three of the planned new nuclear plants at Moorside, Wylfa and Oldbury seem to have been abandoned after actions by Toshiba and Hitachi.

Hinkley Point C in Somerset using French and Chinese capital and expertise is the UK’s first new nuclear power station in a generation. It will have a capacity of 3.2GW, producing low carbon electricity to meet 7% of UK need – enough to power 6 million homes. Despite concerns over costs and delays it would appear that the plan to begin operation in 2025 remains unchanged.

Nuclear is the only proven reliable low carbon electricity source. New nuclear power stations, alongside renewables, will be essential to deliver our Net Zero target and decarbonise our economy in a way which is affordable for consumers. The existing nuclear fleet prevent 20 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year.

Nuclear produces ‘always on’ low carbon power electricity. Because of the stability nuclear power provides, it can be used to complement electricity generated by renewables. Together, nuclear and renewables can deliver a secure, low carbon system where the risks of intermittency are minimised.

Small wonder that the Committee on Climate Change identified nuclear in conjunction with renewables as the way to meet the unavoidable requirement to quadruple the UK’s production of low carbon electricity.

In 2018, the UK’s operational fleet of eight nuclear power stations provided 65 TWh of electricity which is 20.1% of the electricity generated in Great Britain and 19.5% of the electricity generated in the UK. The total annual energy requirements for 2032 are predicted to possibly be as high as 1,000TWh. Government predictions also show that electricity supply requirements will be much higher.

By 2032 it is possible that the only nuclear power stations providing power to the grid will be Hinkley Point C, Sizewell B and Sizewell C (still not finally approved). Sizewell C will be a near-replica of Hinkley Point C and will use the same design. Consequently, the cost will be lower because of the reduction in risk of building the second project in a series. This should mean that Sizewell C is cost comparable with other low carbon projects. 

The Chinese state nuclear firm CGN is funding one-third of Hinkley in return for the chance to build its own design of reactor at Bradwell with EDF's support. I do have concern about China using this to gain the all important UK safety authorisations for their reactor which will hugely facilitate global sales. In addition, it could have a very severe impact on UK companies currently in the nuclear supply chain.

Our nation lacks a coherent future energy policy and our civil nuclear programme is in disarray. 

Nuclear power is an “infrastructure project” that we must get right. Our nation needs to re-enter the race and take back the lead that was so disastrously thrown away by successive governments.

The £200m Nuclear Sector Deal last year, which includes support for advanced nuclear technologies is a small step in the right direction. We should train more nuclear engineers and focus on new research. The efficacy of Small Modular Reactors built in the UK should be investigated as should the use of Sellafield’s large stock of Plutonium to generate power.

Unless our nation gets its act together the future is bleak.


Lord West is a Labour Member of the House of Lords.

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