A few weeks ago, the NIA, alongside MPs from the Nuclear Energy All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), visited Urenco’s enrichment facility at Capenhurst in Cheshire, one of the crown jewels of our industry and a key strategic asset.
In common with much of the sector, it helps bolster our energy security, cut our emissions, and create high-skilled, high-value jobs for people. Enriched uranium from Capenhurst is a critical step in the great chain that sustains our existing nuclear fleet, without which we could not keep the lights on. It is a team player in our national endeavour.
So what is it that makes Capenhurst a unique treasure of British nuclear and a strategic national asset? In simple terms, it makes our allies stronger, it makes the Kremlin weaker, and it provides a regular dividend to the UK taxpayer in the process.
The Kremlin’s state-owned companies have been the dominant uranium enrichers worldwide, earning billions by pulling countries into their energy orbit. Nuclear is the fourth pillar of Russia’s energy leverage over our allies, along with coal, oil, and gas.
Against that fourth pillar, however, we have a hammer.
Capenhurst is the largest net exporter in the whole British nuclear sector. It exports more than 80% of its output, worth about £300 million every year. Those deliveries go to our allies all around the world, so they don’t have to buy from Russia.
Capenhurst, and Urenco as a whole, helps Ukraine buy from the West to protect its independence as a sovereign nation. It helps Bulgaria and countries all over Eastern Europe shake the legacy of the Soviet Union and build new links in Europe. It provides allies from the United States on one side of the world, to South Korea on the other, an alternative to move away from Russian fuel to drive the energy transition.
As demand for non-Russian enrichment services rises for obvious reasons, Urenco intends to roll out a major programme to preserve and expand enrichment capacity at all four of its enrichment facilities, including Capenhurst. That investment will help Urenco meet our allies’ surging demand. Fresh orders will boost British exports and create British jobs and cut Kremlin revenue.
Urenco is also one-third owned by the UK government and provides a stable dividend to the UK Exchequer. When Urenco does better, we do better. When Urenco beats the Kremlin for contracts to supply enriched uranium, we all benefit. When deliveries go from Capenhurst to Ukraine, or to Sweden, or to France, that is the pound in our pocket.
Those are powerful reasons for the British Government to get behind this effort by doing two things. The first thing ministers can do is set a policy that all our reactors will use all-Western fuel and work with our allies, through the Sapporo agreement, so they do the same. The next thing they can do is to rally the Foreign Office, DBAT, DESNZ and UKEF behind Urenco’s export drive. Use the reach of our diplomatic networks to convince our allies to buy British and buy Western. Policy clarity and economic diplomacy will provide the certainty necessary to justify major investments in capital intensive projects like new enrichment capacity.
Breaking Russia’s energy grip is no easy task. We have to use every tool at our disposal to get it done, but we should always remember this: we have a hammer.
To the team at Urenco and Capenhurst, thank you for hosting us, good luck and Godspeed.
Lincoln Hill is the NIA’s Director of Policy and External Affairs.