The UK government unveiled plans on Thursday for what it described as the most significant expansion of nuclear power in 70 years, aimed at enhancing energy independence and achieving carbon emission targets. The Civil Nuclear Roadmap encompasses the exploration of a new major power station, a £300 million ($382 million) investment for advanced uranium fuel production, and the implementation of “smarter regulation.” Collectively, these initiatives aim to quadruple UK nuclear power by 2050, reaching 24 gigawatts, sufficient to cover a quarter of the country’s electricity requirements.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak emphasized that nuclear power serves as an ideal solution to address Britain’s energy challenges, citing its environmental friendliness, long-term cost-effectiveness, and contribution to ensuring energy security. Sunak affirmed the government’s commitment to nuclear power as a pivotal element in achieving the net-zero target by 2050, emphasizing a measured and sustainable approach.
While the government has pledged to attain the 2050 net-zero target, it faced criticism last summer for announcing plans to issue “hundreds” of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea. Additionally, the UK grapples with a cost-of-living crisis, partly attributed to the surge in oil and gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Energy Minister Claire Coutinho asserted that these plans would prevent the UK from being vulnerable to energy manipulation by figures like Vladimir Putin, emphasizing enhanced energy security. The government contends that these proposals mark the most extensive expansion of nuclear power in 70 years, anticipating positive impacts such as reduced electricity bills, job creation, and improved national energy security.
Among the notable proposals is the potential construction of a new power station comparable in size to Sizewell in East England, where construction is set to commence this year, and Hinkley in West England, currently undergoing construction. Both stations are projected to have the capacity to power six million homes each. With the UK’s existing nine operational nuclear reactors situated on five sites, several of these facilities are approaching the end of their operational lifespan. Six reactors on three sites have been decommissioned since 2021 and are scheduled for dismantling. However, EDF, the operator, announced in March the extension of the Heysham 1 and Hartlepool power plants’ operational life.
Looking ahead, the UK aims to construct up to eight new reactors by 2050. The government announced a £300 million investment to produce High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel for advanced reactors, a type currently exclusively commercially produced in Russia. The UK plans to establish a production hub in the North West, aiming to be a global supplier of this uranium fuel, with the first operational plant anticipated in the early next decade.
In a bid to expedite construction plans, regulators will now be permitted to assess projects while their designs are being finalized, signaling a relaxation of rules to streamline the construction process.