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The UK Budget pushes nuclear and CCS, and the military link with small nuclear reactors is now overt

nuclear submarines would be too costly to build and maintain without an “industrial base” largely funded by elevated consumer electricity bills’. 

Renew Extra Weekly, 26 Mar 23

The UK spring budget announced investment of £20bn spread over the next two decades in carbon capture and support for nuclear, with a commitment to ‘spades in the ground on these projects from next year’ as energy security secretary, Grant Shapps, put it

…………………………………. boosting our own sources of clean generation is a must to shield us from future price shocks’. But it’s hard to see how investing in CCS will help- that is fossil based. And, like nuclear, it’s expensive. …………………………………………..

There was very little .. comfort….. in the Budget Red Book, even in the ‘Green Industries’ section (p.64-65). That focussed on CCS/CCUS and nuclear, with SMRs an initial  target for the new Great British Nuclear programme, and nuclear ‘to be included in the green taxonomy, subject to consultation, encouraging private investment’.

No mention of the negative impact of the windfall tax (EGL) on renewables. Indeed there is no direct mention of renewables anywhere in the text, and no mention of energy saving, apart from indirectly via 2 year extension of the Climate Change Agreement scheme. 

,…………………………………. Greenpeace said: ‘This misguided Budget shows the stranglehold fossil fuel and nuclear lobbies have on this government’.

……………………………………………………… For the moment, since the chancellor said in his budget speech that nuclear was ‘vital to meet our net-zero obligations’, he will be launching ‘the first’ competition for small modular reactors, to be run by Great British Nuclear and ‘completed by the end of this year’.  Though Carbon Brief noted that, actually, ‘the government previously launched a £250m competition for small nuclear in 2015, but no winners were announced. Since then, it has offered various pots of money, including “up to” £210m for Rolls Royce to develop its reactor design and “up to” £170m for “advanced” modular reactors.’ 

In parallel, the Government will be looking to the inclusion nuclear power in the UK ‘Green Taxonomy’. But this isn’t a done deal yet, there will be consultation, and, as was pointed out in an answer to a Parliamentary Question from Carolyn  Lucas, ‘with the support of the independent Green Technical Advisory Group and stakeholder engagement, we will take the time to get the taxonomy right to ensure it is usable and effective’.  That may lead to quite a debate, as has happened in the EU where the inclusion of nuclear (and gas) in its green taxonomy has been very contentious.

In the UK context, would inclusion actually help? Not everyone thought so- from an investment perspective, the problems were economic not environmental.   But, quite apart from being expensive, there were, actually, some environmental issues. Nuclear is low carbon, but not zero carbon. It leads to dangerous waste residues.  The pro-nuclear lobby these days sets that against its assumed role in support of variable renewables, but that may not be realistic: nuclear plants are inflexible and get in the way- see my earlier post

And so the somewhat tired old nuclear debate goes on.  With though a new extension- a military and civil nuclear interaction. In the recent Defence Review, the government said that ‘we will proactively look for opportunities to align delivery of the civil and defence nuclear enterprises, seeking synergies where appropriate to ensure a coherent demand signal to our industry and academic partners.’ For University of Sussex Prof. Andy Stirling, that confirmed his view that ‘nuclear submarines would be too costly to build and maintain without an “industrial base” largely funded by elevated consumer electricity bills’. 

It certainly does provide more evidence for co-dependence, with ‘joint expansion’ also possibly in mind. Well, whatever the intent, it’s arguably good that the military-civil link is now overt rather than hidden. But it does open up all sorts of strategic issues.


March 26, 2023 - Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK

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