Ten things that happened since the last UK Nuclear Week in Parliament
Nuclear Week in Parliament week generates excitement about the benefits and opportunities of nuclear energy from conversations between policymakers, stakeholders and industry players and uses it to drive the industry forward.
With preparations underway for this year’s Nuclear Week in Parliament, 30 January – 3 February, we take a look at ten developments since last year’s event.
- The biggest and most welcome development has been the announcement of a financing deal for Sizewell C, which will be the UK’s second new nuclear power plant after Hinkley Point C. In November the government agreed to agreed to take a 50% stake in Sizewell C and put around £700 million into the project, while project owner EDF Energy is to arrange private investment for the rest. This brought the two new reactors significantly closer to their final investment decision. During the last year every country found itself responding to global energy markets as the risks of reliance on imported gas were exposed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Power prices reached record levels, leading to a policy focus on both energy security and nuclear.
- Within weeks of Russia’s invasion, the government published a new Energy Security Strategy, targeting the expansion of nuclear energy to 24 GWe and 25% of electricity by 2050. This will require far more new build than Hinkley and Sizewell, bringing other large project such as potentially Wylfa back into the frame and creating a big potential role for small and advanced reactors, too. If Sizewell C is to reach final investment decision before January 2025, the next parliament should see two such milestones and advance the UK towards a build rate of one large reactor per year.
- As one of the few countries with comprehensive fuel cycle capabilities, the UK sees long term business opportunities in the global move to reduce reliance on Russian uranium and fuel services. This month the government began to look at advanced fuel manufacturing at Springfields, by opening bidding on a £50 million fuel fund.
- It wasn’t just industry and the government that realised the importance of nuclear’s role. Constant discussion of energy security led to a boost in public support: a YouGov poll carried out for the Nuclear Industry Association showed that 79% of people agree that the UK needs to use a mix of energy sources, up from 73%. And favourability for nuclear rose 3% to return to 32%, a level it has seen several times in the last decade.
- This has been a year where a lot of things moved for fusion. There was a breakthrough at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the U.S., where ignition was achieved for laser fusion, but that’s not all. At home, a site was selected for what promises to be the world’s first fusion plant to produce electricity for the grid. The UKAEA’s STEP programme (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) is to be built at West Burton in Nottinghamshire on the site of a former coal power plant. And as a leader in fusion, the CEO of UKAEA, Sir Ian Chapman received his knighthood for services to global fusion energy in the 2023 New Years Honours.
- Broadening the UK new build scene from just large reactors, the Generic Design Assessment began to open for small and advanced designs. Several have applied for the process already: Rolls-Royce, GE-Hitachi, Holtec and UK Atomics. Still more are sure to make their bids.
- Momentum continued to grow around Trawsfynydd as the leading site for an SMR. Cwmni Egino has developed as a prospective SMR incubator and Alan Rayment – formerly CEO of Horizon and the Bradwell B project – was appointed its first permanent CEO in March.
- Another SMR development came when Moltex diversified its line-up to offer MoltexFLEX as a small and versatile version of its molten salt technology developed by a UK team for the UK market.
- A partnership was made to increase public engagement by the industry. The Nuclear Skills and Strategy Group of major employers formally agreed to work with Women in Nuclear and the Young Generation Network on coordinated efforts at the national level.
- Lastly, the nuclear sector workforce continued a trend of growth. According to the Nuclear Industry Association jobs map some 64,500 people are currently employed in the UK nuclear industry – more than any time in the last five years!
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