UK industry looks for clarity on large plant support

19 November 2020

The UK's Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) has welcomed the government's confirmation yesterday that nuclear power will play a role in achieving the country's net zero by 2050 target, but says clarity is still needed on large-scale projects. In its Ten Point Plan, the government refers to such support as being "subject to value-for-money".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution yesterday (Image: NIA)

Point 3 is the government's commitment to develop new nuclear power, which includes investment of GBP525 million (USD696 million) for "the next generation of small and advanced reactors".

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of NIA, told World Nuclear News that this investment can help open up sites for nuclear development and create new export opportunities for the UK, adding that advanced modular reactors have particular potential to produce green hydrogen, which is another key element of the government’s plan.

"We are now looking to the government to clarify the approach to financing large-scale nuclear projects, as they prepare to publish an Energy White Paper," Greatrex said. "A more appropriate financing model will enable the civil nuclear industry to cut the cost of capital, increase the investor pool and make nuclear power cheaper for consumers. That will help projects like Sizewell C to move ahead, and allow us to explore ways forward on sites like Wylfa, which have enormous potential for nuclear development."


In a document providing more details of the Ten Point Plan, the government said it is "pushing large-scale new nuclear projects, subject to value-for-money", adding that, to support this, it will "provide development funding".
Alongside this, it announced up to GBP385 million in an Advanced Nuclear Fund, which it says will enable investment of up to GBP215 million in small modular reactors, and will lead to up to GBP300 million private sector match-funding.

It said it is also committing up to GBP170 million for a research and development programme on advanced modular reactors. These reactors could operate at over 800°C and the high-grade heat could unlock efficient production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels, complementing the government's investments in carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), hydrogen and offshore wind. It aims to build a demonstrator by the early 2030s at the latest.

To help bring these technologies to market, the government says it will invest an additional GBP40 million in developing the regulatory frameworks and supporting UK supply chains.

It noted that a large-scale nuclear power plant will support a peak of around 10,000 jobs during construction, with each gigawatt of nuclear energy generation being enough to power two million homes with clean electricity.
Target milestones include: the publication of the Energy White Paper this year; the launch of Phase 2 of the UK SMR design development next year; the commissioning of Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in the mid-2020s; and the first SMRs and AMR demonstrator deployed in the early 2030s.

The other nine points in the plan are: advancing offshore wind; driving the cost of low-carbon hydrogen; accelerating the shift to zero-emission vehicles; green public transport; jet zero and green ships; greener buildings; investing in carbon capture, usage and storage; protecting the natural environment; and green finance and innovation.

Green bonds

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced at the Green Horizon Summit last week that the UK will issue its first sovereign green bonds as part of the COVID-19 recovery plan. These bonds, which are also referred to as gilts, will be launched next year. Uniquely, they can only be used for green or clean energy projects. A new UK Green Technical Advisory Group is being set up by the Treasury, implementing a green finance taxonomy, which will define what green projects and activities will be permissible, which must be compatible to achieving NetZero.

Zoe Stollard, a partner and nuclear energy expert at national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, responded today to this promised financial support for the UK's 'green industrial revolution'.

"Ever since some fellow European countries had either issued or announced plans to issue green bonds to help rejuvenate their economies because of COVID-19, it was inevitable that the British government would respond," Stollard told World Nuclear News. "Pressure had been mounting from several quarters, including over 30 asset owners and high-profile institutional investors responsible for a reported GBP10 trillion worth of assets under management. Additionally, Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, also commented that climate change poses a greater challenge than COVID-19 in the long term and tackling it is vital."

It is likely, she said, that there will be considerable demand for the green bonds, particularly from pension funds who are increasingly being mandated to invest in low-carbon activity and sustainable industry, and is an important further step to building a UK-wide greener economy.

The Chancellor’s speech, which also included the introduction of more stringent rules on exposure to climate risk reporting by publicly listed companies, is another important step on the road to achieving net zero, she added.

"I will be looking out for details from the UK Green Technical Advisory Group on what green projects will be permissible," she said.

The Ten-Point Plan gives a clear ambition for the future, she said, particularly the commitment to new nuclear and making the City of London the global centre of green finance.

"Details are the next step," she said, "and I look forward with interest to the release of the Government’s Energy White Paper and spending reviews with a specific reference to green bonds."

Green Industrial Revolution

Alok Sharma, secretary of state for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, said in a foreword to the document that the plan demonstrates the UK’s "significant and continuing" commitment to tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

"We have led the G7 countries in cutting emissions since 1990. As President-Designate for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties 26 (COP26), I am committed to ensuring we also use our leadership role so that all countries, businesses, cities and investors adopt a greener, more resilient, sustainable path for the future," he said.

According to a survey commissioned by campaign group Greens For Nuclear Energy and published yesterday, almost half of those surveyed support replacing the UK’s nuclear power plants when they reach the end of their working lives.The Survation poll of just over 3000 respondents asked a range of questions about energy and nuclear power.

"The Green Party has held an ideological opposition to nuclear power thanks to its roots in the peace movement but this survey implies those supporting green issues are evenly spilt on the question of using nuclear for electricity generation with 37% supporting and 37% opposing," Greens For Nuclear Energy said.

Mark Yelland and Duncan Roy are long term members of the Green Party but founded Greens For Nuclear Energy because they wanted it to change its policy to drop their opposition to the civilian use of nuclear energy.

Roy said: "The seriousness and urgency of the climate emergency means we’ve got to reassess our thinking about nuclear. It’s clearly a tried and tested reliable source of clean energy. The UK is home to some of the most hardworking and reliable reactors in the world and we should be proud of that fact as it makes it possible to stop burning coal and keep the lights on whatever the weather."

Yelland added: "Greens say they worry about nuclear waste and safety but the truth is this form of power is amongst the safest in the world and all its waste is carefully looked after. Unlike the waste from burning fossil fuels and biomass which build up in the environment threatening irreversible damage to the planet. It’s time we changed our position and got behind new reactors. Together renewables and nuclear can rapidly replace fossil fuels."

The survey also found there is strong public support for recycling nuclear weapons (75%) and nuclear waste (76%) to make more electricity. And that a clear majority of the public (54%) oppose counting the burning of virgin forest wood toward renewable energy targets and that receiving renewable energy subsidies.

Greens For Nuclear Energy is an independent not-for-profit group campaigning to change the green movement’s attitudes to nuclear energy. It receives neither any support from nor has any ties to the nuclear industry.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News