The government has announced plans to build a new large-scale nuclear plant, despite concerns about delays to existing projects. Ministers say the project would be the biggest expansion of the sector in 70 years, reducing reliance on overseas supply. The new plant would quadruple energy supplies by 2050, they say. But concerns have been raised, with existing nuclear projects already behind schedule and over-budget.
The government’s Civil Nuclear Roadmap is intended to bolster the UK’s energy independence by exploring a new site for another nuclear power station of the size and scale of the £30bn plants under construction at Hinkley Point in Somerset and committed to Sizewell in Suffolk.
Industry sources have told the BBC the leading candidates would include Wylfa on Anglesey or Moorside in Cumbria. Thursday’s announcement also pledged £300m to produce nuclear reactor fuel in the UK, currently only commercially produced in Russia, which it said would lower bills and improve energy security.
But recent nuclear projects have been beset by delays, cost overruns and in the case of Sizewell C, continuing local opposition. In total, the government has now earmarked more than £1bn for the Sizewell C project, building on its original £700m stake as part of its plan to rapidly expand the UK’s nuclear energy sector.
The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) said all clean energy needed fast-tracking.
Nuclear power currently provides around 15% of the UK’s electricity but many of the country’s ageing reactors are due to be decommissioned over the next decade. Progress can be slow – to get from planning to “power on” can take nearly 20 years. Consultations for Sizewell took 10 years alone. The majority of construction there is yet to start and strong local opposition to the project remains.
The government will hope to address such problems by streamlining the development of new power stations. By introducing smarter regulation it anticipates it will be able to deliver new nuclear power plants faster. Jack Abbott, an expert in the clean energy sector, who is also a Labour candidate in the neighbouring constituency to Sizewell, said the government had been “dragging their feet” on nuclear for too long.
“Fourteen years and not one new site opened, despite inheriting 10 approved sites from the last Labour government. Labour supports expanding the UK’s nuclear power fleet, which must form a critical part of our future energy mix,” Mr Abbott said.
The REA is also sceptical. It said the government had been exploring a new private-led nuclear plant for years. However, the association did commend the government on its plans to commit £300m to produce reactor fuel in the UK.
Policy director Frank Gordon added: “We need to accelerate the deployment of all clean energy sources, especially renewable power from diverse sources, plus supporting the roll-out of the much-needed clean technologies, energy storage working at all scales and duration.”
But the government said the plans would also support thousands of jobs, as well as “pushing Putin out of the global market” to provide a quarter of the UK’s electricity needs. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said nuclear was the “perfect antidote to the energy challenges facing Britain”.
Of the two consultations being published on Thursday one will focus on “a new approach” to siting future nuclear power stations, empowering developers to find suitable locations. The other will lead on encouraging private investment.
“Community engagement will remain critical to any decisions, alongside maintaining robust criteria such as nearby population densities,” the government said.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, welcomed the publication of the roadmap and streamlined regulation but said the UK needed to develop both large and small nuclear generation “at scale and at pace.