Strategic plan needed to deliver nuclear power and close the power gap
31 July 2023
In a major report, the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee calls on the Government to develop and publish a Nuclear Strategic Plan to turn high level aspirations into concrete steps to deliver new nuclear.
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- Find all publications related to this inquiry, including oral and written evidence
The Committee says that the Government is right to look to nuclear power to meet our future electricity needs and that this requires a substantial programme of nuclear new build.
But the Report warns that the Government target of 24 GW of nuclear generating capacity by 2050 and the aspiration to deploy a new nuclear reactor every year are more of a ‘wish list’ than the comprehensive detailed and specific strategy that is required to ensure such capacity is built.
The Government’s stated aim of 24 GW of nuclear capacity is ambitious: it is almost double the highest installed nuclear capacity the UK has ever achieved. It could involve new gigawatt-scale nuclear power, small modular reactors (SMRs) and advanced modular reactors (AMRs), and further development of nuclear fusion. It would require substantial progress on technologies, financing, skills, regulation, decommissioning and waste management.
The repeated requirement from witnesses across the nuclear industry was for a much clearer and more concrete strategic plan than currently exists: one which integrates commitments from a wide range of stakeholders and which is designed to go beyond the lifetime of any single government if it is to break out of the decades-long intermittency of UK nuclear energy policy. The Committee recommends that such a comprehensive Nuclear Strategic Plan should be drawn up, consulted upon and agreed before the end of the current Parliament.
Among other findings in the 110-page report:
A clearer role for Great British Nuclear
The role of the recently launched Great British Nuclear is unclear beyond its initial task of running a selection between competing SMR developers.
Establishing the right mix of technologies
There is ambiguity over what proportion of the Government's 24 GW target by 2050 will be met by new gigawatt-scale power plants, as opposed to advanced nuclear technologies. The Committee says a Nuclear Strategic Plan must provide clarity over what proportion of the 24 GW target by 2050 will be met by new gigawatt-scale power plants and how much is intended to be met by advanced nuclear technologies like the Advanced Modular Reactors (AMRs) and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
Financing of new nuclear
The Government has obtained legislative approval for a Regulatory Asset Base (RAB) model of financing new nuclear power, in which consumers - and potentially taxpayers - take on construction risk. So far, the Government has not published financial figures which allow the cost of this risk transfer to be known. The Government must publish figures, before signing contracts for new gigawatt-scale nuclear, which allow a proper assessment of value for money to be made, including setting out the level and potential cost of construction risk to be borne by the consumer or taxpayer.
Small Modular Reactors
A Nuclear Strategic Plan should answer the questions of what deployment of SMRs the Government wants to see; whether technologies will be from a single supplier or multiple suppliers; what sites should SMRs be located at; and what financial model would be used to pay for the contribution of SMRs to electricity supply. Each of these questions will require a clear answer if vendors are to be able to take decisions on whether and when to take the next steps towards eventually deploying SMRs.
If the Government's 24 GW target is to be met, the current nuclear workforce of over 65,000 people will need to more than double, requiring between 75,000 and 150,000 new recruits.
Attracting and training the workforce which is required to meet the Government's ambition for nuclear, needs co-ordinated actions by the whole sector: Government, existing nuclear operators, developers, regulators and educational institutions. We have now reached the point in which high level goals need to be turned into specific commitments by individual organisations by particular dates.
The incremental waste generated by new nuclear power plants is not likely to be a material factor in decisions on approving new gigawatt-scale plants, but it is imperative that a clear understanding of the waste consequences of new nuclear technologies, how it will be dealt with, and at what cost, should be part of these decisions.
The experience and expertise which the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has in civil nuclear decommissioning is more than any other country in the world, as a result of the UK being the world's first civil nuclear nation. The NDA’s expertise’s can be deployed globally, as countries who were later in constructing civil nuclear power stations than the UK seek to safely and economically decommission their reactors. This is a tremendous export opportunity for the UK’s expertise which can raise revenue for the NDA and therefore taxpayers.
The NDA should establish, with the involvement of Government, a long-term plan to expand this international work while maintaining a thorough and dependable service within the UK.
The UK is a leading nation in fusion research and development and since 2010 UK public investment has amounted to £970 million, although it has yet to produce a commercially deployable source of energy. Fusion is highly unlikely to make a material contribution to electricity generation in time to contribute to net zero by 2050, but in recent months breakthroughs have been made. The Committee concludes that this is not the time to abandon the long-standing commitment to fusion: instead this should demonstrate a long-term approach, giving confidence and stability to investors and international partners.
Chair of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, said:
“The Government is right to identify nuclear power as an important contributor to meeting our future electricity needs. It has stretching ambitions to achieve 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050. This would be almost double the highest level of nuclear generation that the UK has ever attained. The only way to achieve this is to translate these very high-level aspirations into a comprehensive, concrete and detailed Nuclear Strategic Plan which is developed jointly with the nuclear industry, which enjoys long term cross-party political commitment and which therefore offers dependability for private and public investment decisions.
“Done right, the UK can be in the vanguard of delivering nuclear innovation, jobs and clean, affordable and reliable energy. But there is now an urgent need to turn hopes into actions.”