Skip to main content

UK Government goes nuclear

Nuclear Power Plant
By Matilda Hartwig
16 January 2024
Energy, Transport & Infrastructure
Hydrogen and alternative fuels

Last week, the government announced ‘the biggest expansion in nuclear power for 70 years’, setting out a roadmap boosting the UK’s nuclear generating capacity to 24GW by 2050. 

The roadmap commits to a major expansion of the UK’s nuclear power, which aims to secure our domestic energy supply, put downward pressure on energy bills and create thousands of jobs at a time when the government needs to make big moves to get the UK economy growing before the general election later this year. 

Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, said “Strengthening our energy security means that Britain will never again be held to ransom over energy by tyrants like Vladimir Putin. British nuclear, as one of the most reliable, low-carbon sources of energy around, will provide that security.” 

The most eye-catching proposal is the possible construction of another power station as big as Sizewell C and Hinkley Point C, which would be capable of powering 6 million homes. 

While some industry leaders have welcomed the ambitious roadmap, others have called the plans to deliver another mammoth nuclear substation ‘insanity’. It has been reported that these projects have incurred significant delays and cost blowouts and aren’t expected to provide cheaper electricity to the community, with the government having to agree to expensive output prices to persuade the developer to build. 

This begs the question – are mega-projects worth the investment? The chief of one of Britain’s biggest power producers thinks not. Markus Krebber, chief executive of RWE said, “I would have a big question mark whether building new ones is really a good strategy, because if you look at the cost overruns and the delays, I think purely a renewables-based energy system, including the necessary storage, is probably in most of the regions already today cheaper than new nuclear.” 

Now that Sizewell C has taken the next step forward, with the construction work officially beginning, we will have to wait and see if the cost-benefit analysis of mega-energy projects stacks up or if a decentralised renewable energy approach is a better option for industry, taxpayers and the environment. 

The Conservative’s nuclear roadmap seems to cover all bases. In addition to delivering another mega-project, it also reaffirms the government’s commitment to deliver small modular reactors and provide funding for skills development and new regulations to help speed up the deployment of new plants. However, Labour has slammed much of the roadmap as nothing more than re-announcements and hype.   

Criticising the government for dragging its feet on shoring up the UK’s nuclear energy supply, Labour pointed out that its former energy secretary, Ed Miliband, had approved 10 potential nuclear power station sites when in power between 2008-2010 – a Labour spokesperson said, “14 years in power and not one new plant opened, despite inheriting 10 approved sites. What has been announced today is yet more warm words, hot air and re-announcements.” 

As the general election draws closer, action on these plans and policies will be imperative to shift voter and investor confidence in the Conservative Party’s ability to deliver and, in turn, manage spiralling cost of living pressures. 

These pressures will likely be further exacerbated by the UK’s impending energy supply gap, with coal fire plants due to be phased out this year and several operational nuclear reactors also expected to shut down soon – reaffirming that the time for action is now. 

The Civil Nuclear Roadmap aims to address age-old planning system conundrums, boost technology and skills development, and secure funding by: 

  1. Speeding up action on new nuclear projects by introducing a timeframe requiring investment decisions to deliver 3-7 GW every five years from 2030 to 2044; 

  1. Developing new regulations to speed up the deployment of new plants; 

  1. Investing £300 million to introduce a new high-tech nuclear fuel programme in the UK, which will help reduce Russia’s control of the global energy market. 

  1. Investing £10 million to develop the skills and sites needed to produce other advanced nuclear fuels in the UK to help secure long term domestic nuclear fuel and support UK allies.