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‘Delays and broken promises’ as flagship UK nuclear agency stalls

Great British Nuclear will be tasked with overseeing the development of the next generation of nuclear power sources

By David Connett 30 Jan 23

The Government has been urged to stop delaying a new “flagship” ­agency to develop the UK’s next generation of nuclear reactors.

Ministers have been warned that the country risks “sleepwalking into the familiar pattern of delays and broken promises that have held back our nuclear ambitions in the past”.

The warning is contained in a letter signed by major companies, including Rolls-Royce and the US Westinghouse group, as well as the Prospect union, cross-party MPs and Lords, and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

It expresses dismay over delays in setting up Great British Nuclear (GBN), a body tasked with overseeing the development of the next generation of nuclear power sources.

It was envisaged as the cornerstone of former prime minister Boris Johnson’s plans to produce enough energy for the nation and reduce reliance on imports.

Last year, Mr Johnson said it would be launched to oversee the construction of up to 24 gigawatts of new capacity by 2050. “Our aim is to lead the world once again in a technology we pioneered so that by 2050, up to a quarter of our power consumed in Great Britain is from nuclear,” he said at the time.

However, a dispute between the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has delayed the move.

The letter warns that progress on GBN has “stalled”. It says: “We do not have time to spare. All but one of the UK’s existing nuclear reactors are due to retire by the end of the decade and this capacity needs to be replaced.”

It warns that private-sector funding and expertise could be lost to rivals because of the delay. It also says that a “global race for investment in next generation nuclear technologies is accelerating, spurred on by the Inflation Reduction Act in the US”.

The letter says the recent Skidmore report into the UK’s route to meet its net-zero climate change commitments demands “stable, long-term policy”, and adds: “We call on the Prime Minister to launch a fully funded Great British Nuclear programme as a matter of priority.”

A report outlining GBN’s strategy and operation, drawn up by the nuclear industry expert Simon Bowen, has been with ministers for several months.

He has asked for it to be published to help the industry prepare for the demands it will face in funding and training sufficient numbers of skilled people, but he has been told that it cannot be.

Experts have warned that continued delays in the nuclear programme will mean that the “ambitious” 2050 target will be missed.

The Government is already struggling to replace its current nuclear generation capacity even before it manages to expand it. Five nuclear power plants generated more than 15 per cent of the UK’s electricity last year. All but one is set to be decommissioned by 2028.

French power company EDF, which operates Sizewell B, has discussed plans with the UK’s nuclear regulator to extend the life of the existing UK reactors, but has not yet made a formal bid to the Office of Nuclear Regulation.

The energy minister, Graham ­Stuart, told MPs last week that he hoped the GBN strategy would be “published early this year”, but refused to be more specific.


January 31, 2023 - Posted by | politics, UK

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