Above: A survey of UK policymakers found a broad baseline of support for new nuclear development

There is clear recognition of the need to accelerate the deployment of low and zero-emission technologies, including nuclear, as a key approach for a deep, rapid and sustained reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The international discourse intersects with the recent research commissioned by Cavendish Consulting in collaboration with the Nuclear Industry Association and involved a survey of MPs from across the UK to help understand their views on new nuclear and support for advanced nuclear technology.

MP support for advanced nuclear technology

The UK government has ambitions to deliver 24 GW of installed nuclear energy capacity by 2050. That’s almost double the highest installed capacity the UK has ever achieved. Against this is a backdrop of much of the aging existing nuclear fleet due to be decommissioned within the coming decade. Given this, such an aspiration needs significant political support both on the national level, driving policy, and locally to support developments. So, where are UK politicians regarding the need for nuclear?

The report helps to understand MPs’ views on new nuclear power and the extent to which they would support or oppose the development of new advanced nuclear technologies within their constituencies. It also outlines how MPs perceive benefits and identifies their most significant concerns about hosting new nuclear in their constituencies. The research revealed that over two-thirds (68%) of UK MPs support advanced nuclear technology in their constituencies, with 88% of Conservative MPs and 54% of Labour MPs in favour of nuclear.

Cavendish Consulting’s separate research on MPs’ views on net zero (conducted by YouGov) found nuclear energy is the top energy source that MPs believe the Government should increase support for development. A central strand of their support is the progress of new technology in small modular (SMRs) and advanced modular reactors (AMRs). In theory, quicker and cheaper to build, with less community impact, these technologies are an attractive addition to the net zero market.

This appetite has also been shown in UK Government policy, from the progression of Sizewell C and the creation  of Great British Nuclear to funding programmes such as the Future Nuclear Enabling Fund to provide support for new nuclear. Despite this, our results suggest the sector must continue to clearly relay the benefits of advanced nuclear technologies. For MPs, there appears to be a growing understanding and momentum for nuclear energy, providing low carbon solutions and substantial economic benefits. MPs are also increasingly recognising the opportunity for the UK to lead the nuclear renaissance in terms of small modular reactor and advanced modular reactor development, providing opportunities to export our expertise internationally.

Addressing concerns around waste legacy

This said, whilst nuclear is the only large-scale energy-producing technology that takes full responsibility for its waste, safety, and environmental impact and fully costs this into projects from the outset of development, there remain ongoing concerns associated with nuclear energy.

Our research found that for 62% of Labour MPs, the waste legacy is a primary concern, followed by safety concerns (55%). With Labour anticipated to play a leading role in the next Government, the sector must continue to clearly relay the benefit of advanced nuclear technologies to key figures within the Party prior to a General Election.

On the other hand, 47% of Conservative MPs expressed apprehension about the time it takes to obtain planning permission, highlighting the complexities involved in the regulatory aspects of nuclear projects in the UK. Interestingly, less than 10% of MPs asked were concerned that new nuclear technology had not been used in the UK before, perhaps showing the confidence in the regulatory system.

The length of time it takes to obtain planning permission for new nuclear projects was shown to be frustrating for MPs. Despite progress in reforming the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project regime, the updated policy statement for nuclear isn’t expected until 2025.

This presents a potential hurdle for new nuclear projects, especially given the urgent need to transition to cleaner energy sources.

However, amidst these concerns, there is a recognition among MPs of the socio-economic benefits associated with hosting nuclear facilities. The research highlighted that 60% of MPs see jobs and skills as the most significant benefit to their constituency, surpassing energy security considerations, net zero, and reduced energy prices.

The socio-economic benefits associated with nuclear projects, such as job creation and skills development, present a compelling argument for the continued expansion of the nuclear sector. In a landscape where economic considerations often take precedence, emphasising the positive impact on local communities can help garner further support for nuclear initiatives.

Building stability in support

Central to achieving the nuclear ambitions is the need for long-term, consistent government policy. Despite our research showing support across the main two parties, enthusiasm is varied. With an election in the next year, engaging with MPs and candidates becomes imperative to foster greater trust in nuclear technology. The industry must allocate resources to educate and communicate advancements in waste management, assuring policymakers about the responsible handling of nuclear waste. By addressing these concerns head-on, the nuclear sector can strengthen its position as a reliable and sustainable contributor to the UK’s energy mix.

The industry must also navigate challenges by engaging early and regularly with policymakers. Reassuring politicians and reinforcing the benefits of advanced nuclear technologies will be crucial in maintaining momentum. This strategic engagement is essential not only for obtaining planning permission but also for driving policy and political support for low-carbon energy sources.

As the UK aims to achieve ambitious targets for nuclear energy, addressing concerns about waste legacy, emphasising socio-economic benefits, and navigating regulatory challenges becomes imperative. The nuclear sector stands as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The challenge lies in aligning global efforts with local solutions, balancing economic imperatives with environmental responsibilities, and fostering a collective commitment to a sustainable and secure energy future.

As the world grapples with the urgency of climate change, the nuclear sector has the potential to emerge as a key player in mitigating the crisis. The question that lingers is whether the global community can recognise the imperative to act swiftly and decisively in the face of a changing climate.

Author: Olivia White, Associate Director, Cavendish Consulting