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Economic importance of nuclear

Rupert Lewis

04 December 2017

In an era when anyone can instantly regurgitate their thoughts on social media, it seems facts are going out of fashion and emotion is the more potent tool.

For a long time, rational debate about the nuclear industry was over-ridden by emotional and irrational debate about the technology. Scare-mongering and false truths from the anti-nuclear lobby created a perception which became difficult to challenge after stereotypes gradually rooted into people’s thoughts.

You can blame Homer Simpson or Greenpeace but for a long time the industry carried on staunchly behind the scenes, too scared to raise its head above the parapet.

When Tony Blair declared nuclear “back on the agenda with a vengeance” it seemed slow and steady lobbying had won the day, and while it may not be fashionable to use facts rather than sentiment to shape opinions, it was important they were. And now, in the age of Trump and Twitter we must carry on doing so.

For the first time, the NIA commissioned a cross-sector report looking at the full economic impact of nuclear new build, decommissioning and operations in the UK.

From our annual Jobs Map we knew there are 65,000 directly employed in the industry and from the government’s figures we know nuclear generated 21% of the UK’s electricity in 2016 – more than any other single low carbon technology – but what about the broader economic impact?

The research led by Oxford Economics show the sector contributed £6.4 billion to the UK economy in 2016. That is equivalent to the output of the aerospace manufacturing industry and 0.3% of the UK’s entire GDP.

That is impressive enough but when you account for the impact of the industry’s spend on associated goods and services through the supply chain, that figure almost doubles to £12.4 billion or 0.6% of GDP.

On an individual level, the wages paid in the civil nuclear are twice that of the national average and each worker added an average of £96,000 in GVA to the economy in 2016.

The NIA’s 2016 Jobs Map showed the industry directly employs 66,000 people but you combine the indirect impact of the sector that number jumps to 154,600 jobs.

This all highlights the wider network of specialist supply chains, the billions spent across other industries, and the high-value of specialist disciplines in the sector.

Regionally, the largest impact is felt in the north west and south west. In both regions the industry supported £1 in every £50 of economic output. The north west, which is home to 28,293 nuclear workers sees the largest nuclear regional impact with £4.3 billion in GVA.

It would be easy to litter this article with more facts and figures but it is important to reflect on the social impact of the industry. Numbers are of course important but when you think, they mean stable, secure and above average incomes for 65,000 families, and financial support for thousands more.

For a long time, the industry took a choice to hide from the negative attention it received but this report proves the positive effect the sector is having in regions across the country and supports the narrative that the industry is an engine for economic growth and can continue to generate growth long into the future.

Today, the UK’s new build programme is underway at Hinkley Point C, EDF Energy’s 15 nuclear reactors continue to generate around the clock electricity, and a multi-billion pound decommissioning programme is supporting a predominantly British supply chain.

Importantly, government support for the industry has been maintained and with work towards a Nuclear Sector Deal as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy in its concluding stages – the UK’s nuclear sector looks to have a bright future.

One challenge now, particularly in this modern social media driven age, is how we maintain the momentum behind the nuclear industry.

The industry and nuclear advocates need to continue to overcome the emotive falsehoods spouted by some and make sure the public know about the positive nuclear story in this country.

With 280 rather than 140 characters allowed in our tweets, maybe we might all have space for some facts rather than condensed, emotional and unfounded opinions…