The UK Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) has released a new report - “Forty by ’50: The Nuclear Roadmap,” setting out plans for a clean economic recovery and the goal of Net Zero by 2050.
The report was produced ahead of the Climate Change Committee’s annual progress update as an assessment for the Government/Industry body, the Nuclear Industry Council (NIC).
The NIC-endorsed report said that, in addition to helping meet long term goals, "prompt decisions" on a new nuclear power programme could unlock mega-projects delivering immediate benefits to help tackle the impact of COVID-19.
An ambitious programme, based on existing and new technologies, could provide up to 40% of clean power by 2050 and drive deeper decarbonisation through the creation of hydrogen, along with district heating.
Nuclear power currently contributes 40% of UK’s annual clean electricity, with demand expected to quadruple from the replacement of fossil fuels and a boom in the electric vehicles and heating sectors.
“Net Zero needs nuclear, and the sector is developing fast. The next large-scale projects are now deliverable much more cheaply by building on repeat and tried and tested designs, capturing learnings from our new build programme, and making important changes to the way projects are financed," said NIA CEO Tom Greatrex.
"We’re confident the price of nuclear power will fall from the £92.50 ($114) per MWh for the first plant, closer to £60/MWh for the next wave of power stations reducing to around £40/MWh for further reactors.
“Greenlighting new projects already in the pipeline would trigger a ramp-up in investment and job creation in parts of the UK facing the biggest economic challenges and clear the way for long term decarbonisation through the hydrogen economy, helping establish the UK nuclear sector as global leader in the field.
Commitment to the roll-out of smaller and advanced reactors would build on that momentum. Conversely, if we do nothing, we are effectively sitting on a winning hand for a greener future,”Greatrex added.
The report cites the need to quadruple clean electricity capacity by 2050, taking in decarbonisation of domestic heating and electrification of transport. It identifies variable renewables as the major source of our electricity in 2050, contributing up to 57% of the mix, with 38% coming from firm sources such as nuclear.
NIA says nuclear power’s potential extends beyond traditional electricity generation. There will be an increased role for hydrogen in the future energy mix for heating homes where direct electrification is not possible, and to replace petroleum products in long-distance transport. “Either through electrolysis, or from the use of primary heat from nuclear power stations, nuclear offers an efficient, carbon-free alternative to producing hydrogen, one that doesn’t rely on unproven technologies. In aerospace, shipping, heavy freight and some agricultural uses—where pure hydrogen and batteries are unlikely to support decarbonisation—there is the potential to develop synthetic and lower carbon fuels, avoiding the need for major vehicle adaptation, through nuclear power.”
The report notes that there is also significant potential to site electricity storage projects near nuclear sites. “As newer, innovative storage technologies develop, such as cryogenic liquid, ammonia, and molten salts; nuclear power stations, where grid connectivity is already in place, make ideal locations.” Beyond energy production, there is significant historic UK experience in producing medical radioisotopes but currently the UK depends on imports.
“A programme of nuclear new build, from large to small scale, would bring major strategic benefits to the UK including economic levelling up and global industry leadership opportunities.” Based on comprehensive modelling commissioned NIA estimates the domestic value of a thriving nuclear sector could:
- Deliver up to 40% of the low carbon power to a net zero economy.
- Be worth, by 2050, in excess of £33 billion ($41bn) in Gross Value Added per year.
- Provide well over 300,000 job opportunities.
NIA says the amount of new nuclear capacity required to meet net zero is substantial, and building it alongside other major infrastructure programmes will require determination, commitment and planning from both industry and Government, focused on the following steps:
- The nuclear industry must continue to drive down costs of new nuclear projects (30% by 2030) and establish delivery excellence. A well-disciplined, programmatic approach using repeated designs and an experienced supply chain should be the focus. Next generation reactors will be nascent technologies but modular designs, shorter construction programmes, and co-location with other facilities, will bring down costs.
- The Government should articulate a clear, long-term commitment to new nuclear power. There are opportunities to do this in the upcoming Energy White Paper, and in the National Infrastructure Strategy.
- Progress must be made on an appropriate funding model for nuclear new build to stimulate investment and reduce the cost of capital. This could be a Regulated Asset Base model, direct government investment, or an alternative.
- A National Policy Statement on small reactors. A detailed policy and a facilitative programme should be developed to remove barriers to the delivery of Small Light Water Reactors and AMRs including siting, generic design assessment slots, site licensing and operational models.
- Support the 2030 targets of the Nuclear Sector Deal by: demonstrating progress on delivering a 20% reduction in the costs of decommissioning; driving down the cost of new build projects by 30%; ensuring 40% of the nuclear workforce is female; winning up to £2 billion domestic and international contracts; and announcing which technologies have qualified for the next round of funding in the AMR competition.
- Industry and Government should agree a framework and commitments, focused on cross-sector collaboration. This would include the production of medical isotopes, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels for transport, along with heat applications including district heating and agriculture and storage technologies.
The report said that, with the closure of UK coal power stations and the progressive closure of the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor fleet, the UK is losing diversity and resilience.
“Doing nothing means losing our nuclear capability and expertise, which is amongst the best means we have available to meet our national economic and environmental goals. Alternatively, the UK can capitalise on a proven, reliable technology source. A fleet of new nuclear stations can complement renewable generation, helping to avoid over-dependence on real-time imports at times of low sun and wind, providing valuable stability to our national grid. It would not only deliver a dramatic reduction in emissions, but galvanise our efforts to forge a prosperous zero carbon economy.”
An All Party Parliamentary Group on Nuclear Energy welcomed the report.