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Roadmap to reaching 24GW of nuclear in UK promised by end of year

Roadmap to reaching 24GW of nuclear in UK promised by end of year


The UK government has promised to release a "practical" roadmap by the end of the year on how it intends to reach 24GW of nuclear energy powering the nation's grid by 2050.

As the UK’s energy network looks to move to renewables, somewhat of a nuclear revolution is taking place. This year has seen the establishment of Great British Nuclear (GBN) and chancellor Jeremey Hunt recent announcement the government will be consulting on listing nuclear energy as “environmentally sustainable”.

Amid cost and feasibility concerns, the government has now produced a Nuclear Strategic Plan in response to the Science, Innovation, and Technology Committee’s (SITC’s) plea for one in Summer last year.

This major SITC report called for more transparency regarding the planned strategies to meet the nuclear targets as the UK eyes net zero by 2050 as well.

The SITC’s report also highlighted the UK’s chequered history of scaling up nuclear capacity, stating it has been a number of decades since a nuclear reactor was constructed. The £33bn GBN-backed under-construction Hinckley Point C power station is currently underway and is due to finish constructing its first reactor at some point this year.

As part of its response to the SITC’s report, the government said: “[The government] has committed to achieving two Final Investment Decisions in the next parliament, at least one of which will be for small modular reactors (SMRs).

“Achieving the UK civil nuclear programme means building a pipeline across the full spectrum of nuclear technologies, including large-scale, SMRs and advanced modular reactor technologies.

“We will support at scale the development of SMR technology as well as the design, engineering and supporting infrastructure to ensure that we can deliver on our ambition for operational plants in the mid-2030s.”

A number of questions are asked of the proposal to build the Sizewell C nuclear power plant, a planned dual reactor 3.26GW capacity nuclear plant on the Suffolk coast that is projected to cost £20bn and take between 13 and 17 years to construct, though estimates of cost and timescale vary.

The government responded by stating: “With regard to Sizewell C, subject to project development and the timing of any positive final investment decision, we expect the project to be generating power by the mid-2030s.

“We will set out further detail on future plans in the roadmap published later this year.”

Last month, the process of finding private investors to help fund the construction of the power plant commenced.

The project will be funded through a regulated asset base (RAB) model, like those used on Tideway and Heathrow Terminal 5. This sees the investors pay a large upfront contribution that is recouped through a surcharge on taxes, with the amount being set by an independent regulator, in this case Ofgem. While it means a small increase in taxes, the government estimates it will save consumers at least £30bn on the project.

The RAB model means the risk is shared between investors and taxpayers and in theory incentivises the investors to push the project through to completion on schedule.

However, the RAB model has never been used on a nuclear project and researchers at the University of Greenwich School of Business believe that taxpayers’ contribution to the plant could be double what the government projects.

The SITC’s report highlighted these worries to which the government responded: “In establishing use of the RAB model for use on nuclear projects, the government followed the recommendation of the National Audit Office that such a model could represent better value for money to consumers than the Contract for Difference model used at Hinkley Point C, by reducing the cost of project finance, the biggest driver of new nuclear project costs.

“[It] requires the secretary of state to take the interests of existing and future consumers (including in terms of cost and security of supply) into account when implementing a RAB model for a designated project.”

The government further stated it was developing a new nuclear National Policy Statement (NPS) to cover the deployment of new nuclear power stations beyond 2025.

It said: “This new NPS will take into account the changes in the nuclear landscape since the current NPS was published in 2011, including the realistic potential for deployment of advanced nuclear technologies such as SMRs.

“We are intending to consult later this year on the future siting strategy. In addition, GBN will work with wider government on access to potential sites for new nuclear projects to achieve our long-term ambition.”

The SITC report also highlighted the fact that nearly all current nuclear capacity is due to expire in 2028 as all reactors, barring Sizewell B, are due to reach the end of their operational lifespans.

The government responded and said: “[The government] welcomed the recent announcement by EDF that two key stations, Heysham 1 and Hartlepool, with a combined capacity of 2.4GW, will continue to operate until March 2026, an extension of two years.

“The continued operation of assets in the nuclear fleet (including the AGR fleet and Sizewell B) is supportive of [the government’s’ ambitions] to deploy up to 24GW by 2050 however, lifetime extensions are a decision for the operator, EDF, and the independent nuclear regulator, Office for Nuclear Regulation, based on safety and commercial considerations.”

In July, NCE took a closer look at all the projects being brought forward by GBN.