It is hopefully an auspicious day for the nuclear industry in the UK, and perhaps the UK economy as a whole, as Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps has announced how Great British Nuclear is intended to accelerate the growth of nuclear power plants in the UK. The aim is to improve energy security, create cheaper power, reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, and grow the UK economy. The UK Government has ambitions to provide up to a quarter of the UK's electricity from UK nuclear reactors by 2050 and achieve "among the cheapest wholesale electricity prices in Europe".
As I have discussed previously in my article "Driving R&D to build a nuclear industry", in order for the UK to reach its goal of 25% of electricity being generated by 2050, with the total amount of electricity being generated to double by 2050 and the proportion of nuclear derived electricity to increase from 14.9% to 25% in the same time frame, the nuclear energy industry in the UK will need to almost quadruple in size over the next 27 years. This is a huge undertaking and there needs to be a step-change in the rate at which nuclear is commissioned to have any hope of reaching this goal. With a more reliable and consistently priced supply of electricity, consumers and industry will be better insulated from drastic changes in the price of electricity. In addition, having a reliable baseload of power generation will aid in smoothing out the variable input of renewables and provide better flexibility for excess energy in the grid to be used for the generation of hydrogen. In future, electricity demand and generation is likely to be somewhat partially decoupled due to growth in the prevalence of battery storage in homes, cars, and grid-level batteries, and it is likely nuclear which will provide the constant level of power generation to keep the batteries topped up come rain or shine.
The UK has been a leader in the nuclear sector from the very beginning of the nuclear sector and has an existing pool of talent and expertise, but the sector has been sorely overlooked in recent years, with the green credentials of nuclear only recently being recognised by the European Union and the UK Government. The nuclear industry is also good for the UK economy as it provides a large number of well-paid, skilled jobs outside of the south-east and I would certainly welcome an SMR in the Liverpool area where I am based.
As from today, companies can register their interest to participate in a competition to secure funding for their products. The government is keen on so-called Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) which aim to make construction faster and cheaper. It is also interested in advanced modular reactors and next generation fuels, which could also assist in the generation of hydrogen for a future decarbonised economy.
Various companies have already been awarded funding by the UK Government, a significant number of which are based in my neck of the woods in the North West, including Urenco UK in Capenhurst, Wirral, as well as Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation UK, the National Nuclear Laboratory, and MoltexFLEX all based in Warrington. As such, the North West looks set to play a key role in the UK's nuclear industry and could mirror the original industrial revolution which started in the North West.
Whilst China still dominates the patent landscape with regards to nuclear reactor patent filings, the launch of Great British Nuclear will hopefully lead to a chain reaction of growth and innovation in the UK by providing support for innovative, high-potential companies which can move the industry forwards. Having worked with a number of clients operating in the nuclear sector on a range of technologies, it is clear that there are significant opportunities in the whole nuclear supply chain so companies do not necessarily have to invent a whole new class of reactor, and smaller innovations and improvements can work together to incrementally reduce costs, improve efficiency, and still lead to impressive growth.
The launch of Great British Nuclear should generate renewed research and development in the nuclear sector, and I look forward to seeing the new technologies coming through from the drawing board and into practice.