The UK should invest in new nuclear as part of the wider electricity mix to secure a sustainable and low carbon future and to forge new trading relationships post-Brexit, according to a new report launched by leading think tank ResPublica. The UK’s 15 existing nuclear reactors churned out 65TWh of power in 2016, representing over 20% of all electricity produced in the UK last year.
Our new report ‘Expanding Horizons: The Role for New Nuclear in the UK’s Energy Mix’ argues that new nuclear should be central to the UK’s long-term energy strategy. Nuclear currently meets 45% of the UK’s low carbon electricity and the power generated by the current nuclear fleet avoids the emission of 49 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
The report stresses that Britain’s new nuclear programme is not only ready to go, but also necessary to meet the country’s medium and long-term ambitions for energy security and decarbonisation. No new reactors have been built in almost three decades however and much of the current electricity capacity will close by 2030. Sustained political will and commitment is needed in the coming years to push new nuclear projects over the line.
The report also highlights that new nuclear should not be framed as an alternative to renewables. Earlier this year over half of electricity generation was met from low carbon sources comprised of nuclear and renewables, making nuclear a resource of huge potential as the UK strives to meet legally binding carbon targets. Nuclear is therefore an integral part of the wider solution to meet the Government’s aim of having a sustainable, low carbon and secure energy mix as outlined in the recent ‘Clean Growth Strategy’.
New nuclear is also a key source for UK innovation with enormous potential for nascent technology such as Small Modular Reactors (SMR), new manufacturing and advanced reactor designs to deliver wholescale energy transition. No single technology can meet the Government’s carbon commitments and new nuclear will give the UK security of supply which would act as a springboard to allow further innovation in renewable and battery technologies.
There are 78,000 people currently employed in the nuclear industry and this is estimated to rise to over 100,000 by 2021 as the new nuclear programme creates a wealth of new roles. The high-value jobs needed to construct and maintain the nuclear fleet have transferable skills to other sectors and through further investment in nuclear the UK can create additional high-skilled jobs which are at the heart of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. These skills will be in demand globally as other countries look to nuclear to bridge their own energy gaps.