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What’s happening with Great British Nuclear? Not Much.

No2 Nuclear Power SAFE ENERGY E-JOURNAL No.97, April 2023.

Last November, the UK Government was all set to announce proposals to set up a new body called Great British Nuclear (GBN), to develop a network of small modular reactors (SMRs), as well as promote new large reactors. GBN would be responsible for getting planning permission and doing the preparation work on designated sites. However, the announcement was delayed because of a row over funding with Treasury officials arguing there is no money to pay for it. (1)

Then on 30th March, there was a further announcement, as part of the Government’s so called Green Day, when its revised Energy Strategy was launched. The strategy reiterated the pledge to set up “Great British Nuclear”, which will begin recruiting staff “shortly” and will be based “in or around” Greater Manchester. But there was still no new money announced. The body will run a competition for small modular reactor (SMR) designs, starting with “market engagement” in April 2023 and a selection process in summer. It will have “an ambition to assess and decide on the leading technologies by autumn”. The government will publish a nuclear “roadmap” later this year. (2)

Energy Security Secretary, Grant Shapps wants “to deliver wholesale UK electricity prices that rank amongst the cheapest in Europe”, (3) with GBN providing up to a quarter of our electricity –24GW by 2050, up from the previous target of 16GW. (Hinkley Point C should be 3.2GW). (4) Somehow, Shapps thinks Small Modular Reactors will help with that. But it is far from clear that SMR production line techniques will compensate for lost scale economies of building large reactors. (5)

The American SMR design from NuScale Power is the canary in the SMR market –already far more expensive and taking much longer to build than renewable and storage resources. (6)

Funding to establish GBN doesn’t mean funding for new reactors. The Times reported that a deal on funding was unlikely to materialise for at least another 12 months. (7) The perpetual launch of Great British Nuclear won’t get us anywhere near 24GW; £210 million lobbed at Rolls-Royce SMRs, and a £700 million injection into the planning for Suffolk’s Sizewell C, a nuke that’ll cost £30 billion-plus, is small beer. (8) Rolls-Royce’s nuclear power business has frozen hiring, (9) and Tom Samson, head of its SMR division is leaving the Company. (10) Rolls says its SMR programme will run out of cash by
the end of 2024, but it hopes to receive UK regulatory approval by about August 2024. (11)

Andrew Bowie, the Tory MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine has become the UK’s first ever nuclear energy minister. The SNP’s Westminster energy spokesman Alan Brown said: “Andrew Bowie must be taking up one of the most pointless ministerial positions in the UK government. If the Tories think they will bring down energy bills by building nuclear power stations that won’t be ready for years to come then they are more delusional than we thought.” (12)

The Scottish Government condemned the GBN launch. The new Cabinet Secretary for Energy Neil Gray said: “The launch of GBN does not change the Scottish Government’s opposition to the building of new nuclear fission power stations in Scotland. Given that new nuclear power will take years, if not decades, to become operational, will be expensive, and will generate further radioactive waste, we do not believe it to be a sustainable solution to our net zero energy requirements.” (13) Anas Sarwar
has condemned the Scottish Government’s nuclear stance as ‘short-sighted’ and ‘unambitious’. (14)

On 15th March, Jeremy Hunt, announced that nuclear power will be classified as “environmentally sustainable” in UK’s green taxonomy, “giving it access to the same investment incentives as renewable energy.” He stated that “because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, we will need another critical source of cheap and reliable energy. And that is nuclear.” (15) It’s unclear whether the reclassification will help in the hunt for co-investors alongside EDF and government in Sizewell C.

Ministers were forced to publish the raft of revised policies, contained in 40 documents and nearly 3,000 pages, after a court ruled last year that the existing strategy for reaching net zero emissions was unlawful because it provided insufficient detail on how the target would be met. But it has admitted the revised plans will only deliver 92% of the goal to cut emissions by 68% by 2030,compared with 1990. The Green Alliance think tanks says even that 92% is a very generous reading. (16)


May 7, 2023 - Posted by | politics, UK

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