UK government pledges to ramp up nuclear power plant construction

yellow polar crane runs on a circular track inside the reactor dome Using Big Carl to install the polar crane brings roof installation one big step closer. Photo: EDF Energy

The UK government has outlined plans to undertake the biggest expansion in nuclear power plant construction in 70 years, as it focuses on energy security.

It claimed that a new ‘Civil Nuclear Roadmap’ will offer certainty over the future direction of the UK’s nuclear programme.

The announcement comes as the government and French-owned energy company EDF are “on track” to raising nearly £20 billion (US$25.5 billion) to build Sizewell C, a new nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, according to the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, in October last year, Great British Nuclear announced that six companies would advance to the next phase of a small modular reactor (SMR) competition, with those successful in bidding for contracts announced in spring this year.

The government said the roadmap would build on the commitment to Sizewell C and SMRs, to quadruple the UK’s nuclear power output up to 24GW by 2050.

It promised to speed up the development of new power stations and introduce “smarter regulation” to accelerate the delivery of nuclear projects. This includes allowing regulators to assess projects while designs are finalised, and better join-up with overseas regulators assessing the same technology.

The UK is in the process of building a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, with the Bylor joint venture between Bouygues and Laing O’Rourke responsible for construction work. However, the project is running behind schedule and is expected to start generating power in June 2027, having originally been expected to be operation by 2023.

Meanwhile, the government is publishing two consultations today (11 January), one on a new approach to siting future nuclear power stations and another on supporting the sector and encouraging private investment to roll out advanced nuclear projects.

Investment in nuclear fuel plant

It will also invest up to £300 million (US$235.4 million) in UK production of the uranium fuel required to power new nuclear reactors, known as HALEU, currently only commercially produced in Russia.

It aims for the first HALEU plant to be operational early in the next decade, building on the ambition to return uranium conversion to the Springfields nuclear fuel site near Preston in Lancashire.

The roadmap also includes a government ambition to secure 3 – 7GW worth of investment decisions every five years from 2030 to 2044 on new nuclear projects.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, said, “Nuclear is the perfect antidote to the energy challenges facing Britain - it’s green, cheaper in the long term and will ensure the UK’s energy security for the long-term.

“This is the right long-term decision and is the next step in our commitment to nuclear power, which puts us on course to achieve net zero by 2050 in a measured and sustainable way.”

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of Nuclear Industry Association, said, “We welcome the publication of the roadmap - the commitment to explore a further large-scale project beyond Sizewell C in parallel with the deployment of SMRs is very welcome.

“We will need both large and small nuclear at scale and at pace for our energy security and net zero future. Allowing developers to engage with the government about Regulated Asset Base funding models should also make it cheaper to finance projects, cutting costs to the consumer. Decisions on 3-7GW in each five-year period provide the greater clarity and predictability, which in turn enables supply chain investment and more UK content in the future fleet.

“The commitments to maximise our use of regulatory assessments already undertaken overseas will help get innovative reactor designs into construction faster and reduce the duplication in regulatory activity that eats up time for no additional benefit.”

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Andy Brown Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786224 E-mail: [email protected]
Neil Gerrard Senior Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 7355 092 771 E-mail: [email protected]
Catrin Jones Deputy Editor, Editorial, UK – Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 791 2298 133 E-mail: [email protected]
Eleanor Shefford Brand Manager Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786 236 E-mail: [email protected]