Yesterday saw the long-awaited and much anticipated launch of Great British Nuclear (GBN), with government support for the early part of a programme for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) of up to £20 billion, marking a new era for nuclear deployment in the UK. It is a huge milestone which could prove to be one of the most important announcements for the future of clean power in Britain.
If given the right tools and executed in the right way, GBN will go a long way in helping drive a programme of new nuclear projects at pace and at scale to strengthen our energy security, create good, highly skilled jobs, and help us on our way to net zero. By 2050, the target is for nuclear power to be providing a quarter of the UK’s electricity needs, a big jump from the 15% or so we get today – and at a time where overall demand for power is likely to be higher. It will no doubt be challenging, but the nuclear sector stands ready to get the job done.
My message is simple: build, build, build. GBN is nothing without the successful delivery of new power stations. It is why the likes of Simon Bowen as GBN Chair and Gwen Parry Jones as CEO, were appointed, because of a shared vision to get Britain building nuclear again, as part of a programme of exciting new projects. Some cynical voices had been questioning what GBN was for – anybody who was at or followed the launch will have seen for themselves that this is a serious exercise, led by serious people with a serious purpose.
We have to start with a focus on building new fleets of large and small scale stations – big GW plants and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) – not one or the other, not one at a time, but together, all at once, and as soon as possible. Not only does it make the most sense financially, but it will also reinvigorate the supply chain and create good, green jobs in areas that need them most.
Other countries are doubling down on their nuclear ambition, with France, the US and Canada are among those either offering big incentives or putting money into new projects, and we should be too. So, it was heartening to hear the Energy Secretary announce details of the SMR competition, including how £20 billion of government money could be made available for it. There are a range of sites and communities across the country ready to host SMR technology, and vendors will be eager to be part of the selection process. Ensuring that progress is swift and timelines are kept to will be key.
It was an important day for nuclear fuel too. Britain has an important leadership role in the global nuclear industry, and nowhere more so than in our determination to drive Russia out of the nuclear fuel markets. The Government’s Nuclear Fuel Fund, which will enable 8 projects to develop new fuel production and manufacturing capabilities, will bolster those world-class capabilities that make us uniquely placed to help our allies replace Russian supplies with Western nuclear fuel.
There is a lot happening in the sector, and as always, a lot be getting on with. GBN should make the traditionally knotty aspects of delivering new projects smoother, and the industry is ready to support. It is as much our industry’s endeavour as it is GBN’s, which is why you will see over the period ahead how the NIA will refocus some of our activity to be an effective and engaged partner in the revitalised new build mission – as Simon Bowen said at the launch, GBN will need industry’s help to deliver on the ambition which has been set. And as industry has made clear to Simon, Gwen and the team, we are ready, willing and excited to be part of it. We should not forget that the UK has the sites, the technology and the know-how – so let’s get on with it. Let’s build.
Tom Greatrex is the NIA’s Chief Executive.