UK Nuclear Industry Seeks More Government Clarity for Investment

Jan 25, 2023 by Bloomberg
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The Sizewell B nuclear power station, operated by Electricite de France SA (EDF), stands in Sizewell, U.K., on Friday, May 15, 2020. The network operator struck a deal with EDF to cut supply at its Sizewell nuclear plant by half for at least six weeks because the demand for power is 20% lower than normal as measures to contain the coronavirus have shut industry and kept people at home for weeks.

Britain needs more government support to achieve its nuclear-power ambitions, which could improve the country’s energy security and help achieve its climate goals, industry leaders told a Parliamentary committee Wednesday. 

The UK aims add 24 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity by 2050 — enough energy to power about 18 million homes, according to Bloomberg estimates. However, it has struggled to secure investments in major projects, which can take more than a decade to build and cost over £20 billion ($24.6 billion). 

“What we don’t currently have is the necessary clarity from government about how do we get from where we are today to where we need to be very soon,” Rory O’Neill, UK director of government affairs and public relations for Westinghouse Electric Co., told lawmakers. “The UK government needs to give the market and potential investors clarity.”

Nuclear power has long been contentious due its expense, questions surrounding aging reactors and waste disposal, and the potential for a long-term disaster in the event of an accident. However, it is a virtually carbon-free source of energy, and some nations see it as key to fighting climate change and managing Europe’s energy crisis.

Read: Nuclear Power Plants Are Pushed to the Limit as Demand Surges

The UK plans to set up a body called Great British Nuclear that will support the industry to invest in the sector. The role and scope of the organization is still being defined. The government needs to take a direct role in development or send a clear signal that it will support the development phase, O’Neill said. 

Late last year the UK announced it would invest about £700 million to cover roughly 50% of the development costs for Electricite de France SA’s Sizewell C nuclear power plant. It backed a funding model to encourage the private sector to help bring the project to a final investment decision. It’s expected to cost at least £20 billion. 

Beyond Sizewell, another potential site is the Wylfa nuclear project in Wales that was abandoned by Hitachi after it failed to attract financing. Having the government directly involved is crucial for nuclear plants to get through the development stage to reach a final investment decision, according to Ivan Baldwin, business development director at nuclear plant engineering group Bechtel. 

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By William Mathis

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