The status of new nuclear in the UK
The Government have issued a clear commitment to developing the UK’s capacity to produce nuclear energy in 2018. But some MPs are reticent and believe the UK is being taken down the wrong path in its pursuit of a robust sustainable energy mix, writes Dods Monitoring’s Josh White.
SNP MPs such as Drew Hendry and Alan Brown have encapsulated this sentiment in the Commons, often taking the Government to task on its decision to prioritise new nuclear over alternatives such as oil and gas and offshore wind.
In July, Hendry accused the Government of locking consumers into paying £20 to £40 more per megawatt-hour and called on it to end to its “obsession with outdated, expensive and risky nuclear”.
Does Hendry have a point? – At face value, there’s no denying that a higher strike price represents a poorer public investment, however, new nuclear stakeholders have argued that the reliability of nuclear energy sets it apart from other cheaper forms of low carbon energy production.
AFFORDABILITY AND RELIABILITY
In response to Alan Brown MP's July 24th article for PoliticsHome in which he critiqued the viability and affordability of nuclear power, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) highlighted that the intermittent generation of other renewables was a valid cause for concern, noting that wind power had contributed as low as 1.3 per cent of the UK's electricity generation in some weeks in 2018 – In stark contrast to nuclear power, which could be relied upon to provide low carbon energy regardless of the weather.
The industry will have to deliver on the Government’s promises to bring down the strike rate for future new nuclear projects, should they want to ensure this price disparity doesn’t become a significant obstacle in securing public and parliamentary support for forthcoming initiatives.
One might empathise with Brown and Hendry’s observation that government investment in new nuclear has left other low carbon alternatives out of favour and underfunded.
On carbon capture and storage, for example, following the decision to axe the £1bn grant for the Peterhead carbon capture and storage project in 2015, the Government has shown little indication that it plans to offer significant state-funded support to the development and implementation of the technology, which, if deployed effectively, could revolutionise the oil and gas sector in the UK.
This, despite assurances from the Minister for Clean Growth and Energy, Claire Perry, that the Government planned to establish the UK as a world leader in the technology.
But it would be unfair to suggest that the Government has abjectly neglected investing in alternative sources of low carbon energy in favour of new nuclear.
The Government is expected to publish the Offshore Wind Sector Deal before the end of the year, which, reportedly, will commit approximately £48bn in new investments in the country’s infrastructure and increase offshore wind capacity to 30 gigawatts by 2030. Should these reports be accurate, the Government will hope that this investment will assuage MPs’ concerns.
FUTURE OF NEW NUCLEAR
Whilst it is evident that the Government seeks to establish new nuclear as the core of the future UK energy mix, the success of the project will be contingent on finding a solution to the pressing issue of what to do with nuclear waste - a problem unique to nuclear energy.
Currently, the solution on the table is to store radioactive waste in geological disposal facilities (GDFs) that would be built with community consent, bringing jobs and skills to affected localities whilst also providing a long-term solution to the legacy of higher-activity waste.
The scheme failed to gain traction in 2008 when it was launched as part of the Managing Radioactive Disposal white paper, however, with the need to transition towards a sustainable energy mix greater than ever, the Government is hoping the initiative will attract more support and uptake this time around.
Should the Government and the nuclear industry want to achieve this, it will be vital to step up pubic and parliamentary engagement and rally support from nuclear friendly MPs such as Trudy Harrison, Ian-Liddell Grainger, and Sue Hayman, who have each championed new nuclear in the Commons.
Further details of the Government’s strategy on GDFs will be published in its response to the ‘Working with communities: implementing geological disposal’ consultation launched in January 2018, expected before the end of the year.
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