The UK urgently needs to restore nuclear capacity to at least 10GWe Net Zero, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nuclear Energy (APPG) in a position paper published on 30 June – “Net Zero Needs Nuclear: A Roadmap to 2024”. The APPG, established in July 2015, provides a forum for UK parliamentarians to engage with businesses and organisations working to enable the UK to meet its decarbonisation targets through the implementation of civil nuclear projects, and to discuss policy options to support these.

APPG says the UK needs to take decisions urgently in this Parliament to restore nuclear capacity to at least 10 GWe with deployable technologies, by the early 2030s. “Most of our current nuclear fleet will retire by March 2024. With new investment, we can cut emissions, create tens of thousands of high-quality jobs, and secure the UK’s world-class nuclear skills base. Without new investment, the UK will lose critical capabilities and our position as an international leader in nuclear technology.” The government must begin legislating for a financing model for new nuclear in 2021, and should identify and support the specific projects that can deliver new capacity. Alongside this, the industry must continue its work to reduce costs on new projects at least 30% by 2030, in line with existing commitments.

The paper says the nuclear industry is ideally placed to support the government’s goals of levelling up the UK economy and cutting emissions – 78% by 2035, hitting net zero in 2050. However immediate action is required with seven Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor (AGR) power stations reaching the end of their design lives.

The pressurised water reactor (PWR) at Sizewell B will be the only station of the existing fleet still operating in the next decade.

“Even before these retirements, UK progress on the decarbonisation of power has stalled. Emissions from electricity generation to date in 2021 are higher than in 2020, the first year-on-year increase since 2012. Nuclear is the only clean power source the UK can rely on to stabilise our grid and to bolster our energy security. No other technology can substitute for nuclear. If the nuclear fleet is allowed to retire without replacement, we will fall further from our climate goals.” Critical skills will be lost with investors and developers losing confidence as expertise fades.

Without nuclear replacement, industry and consumer costs will increase from peaking fossil fuel generation and imported power to cover gaps. System costs will also increase from loss of grid inertia provided by nuclear. The loss of all AGR fuel demand at Springfields, designated as of “strategic national importance”, will lead to capability loss without new nuclear projects. Loss of reactor engineering expertise will hamper future new build projects. Energy security and grid stability will both be compromised.

APPG notes that the Energy White Paper and the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan outlined comprehensive government support for nuclear power, pursuing multiple large-scale nuclear projects and investment in small and advanced modular reactors (SMRs and AMRs) and fusion. This will result in “tens of thousands of new, well-paying jobs across the UK, new export markets and lower emissions”. However, decisions must be taken during the current parliament. APPG puts forward the following roadmap to 2024:

  • End of 2021 – Commence legislation for a financing model to cover all stages of large and small new nuclear projects;
  • End of 2021 – Confirm policy for new UK reactors to utilise fuel manufactured in the UK;
  • End of 2021 – Agree five-year funding settlement and approach for delivery of an AMR demonstrator;
  • Early 2022 – Produce National Policy Statement on siting of new build projects, including for SMR and AMR deployment;
  • Early 2022 – Establish the policy and legislative framework to enable orders by end of 2022 for UK deployment of fleet of SMRs by early 2030s;
  • Autumn 2022 – Support Sizewell C to Final Investment Decision (FID);
  • End of 2023 Commit to the next tranche of the STEP Programme, including selection of a site;
  •  March 2024 – Enact regulatory changes to allow integration of modular reactors with urban and industrial systems, to allow the use of alternative fuels and coolants, and to support fusion energy;
  • Mid 2024 – Government commitment to at least 1 additional Gigawatt-scale nuclear power plant and to enable further Gigawatt-scale development.

If these decisions are taken, “the nuclear sector will help realise the Government’s vision of a net zero economy with prosperity shared across all parts and all communities of the UK”, APPG says. The roadmap, however, is just the foundation for a wider expansion of nuclear energy to 2050. “We know that the UK will need ten times as much clean energy to decarbonise our economy and many more good jobs to ensure a just transition. We will need new sources of power, heat and clean-burning fuels to replace the 85% of our energy that comes from fossil fuels.”

Nuclear is ideally placed to meet this challenge. APPG concludes: “The UK can be a leader in a net zero world, with global expertise and capabilities, but to realise that vision, we need to act now.”