This week the House of Lord’s Science and Technology Committee published its report “ Nuclear research and technology: Breaking the cycle of indecision”. Weinberg Next Nuclear welcomes the report and agrees with many of its conclusions.
Nuclear has undoubted potential in the UK, but indecision for many years, through successive governments, has impaired progress. Continual delays have damaged both short and long term opportunities, as well as tarnishing the reputation for nuclear in the UK and limiting investor confidence.
Instead, the report argues that the Government “must act now to provide underpinning strategic support to the nuclear industry”. This action can and should be chosen strategically, and the Government can decide to either be a designer, manufacturer and operator of nuclear power itself, or be a destination to operate nuclear reactors designed and potentially manufactured overseas.
The report recommends investment in nuclear research and development, including allocating the £250 million announced by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015 and giving core funding to the National Nuclear Laboratory (see our recommendations for investment in this report). Small modular reactors (SMRs) are one of the areas that have particular potential, with the report recognising they are likely to be “globally important for the future of nuclear energy”. The UK’s experience in this sector, through defence application expertise, gives it the potential to be a world leader. Despite the potential both for the technology globally and the UK specifically, the SMR competition is still delayed. The report recommends the results should be published without delay, and joint ventures with foreign partners to develop the resulting technologies should be considered. Finally the report expresses caution (as we ourselves have done in this blog) on the risks of leaving Euratom as part of the Brexit process without a suitable replacement. Convening a group to plan to preserve the essential benefits of Euratom membership is a matter of urgency as the UK risks losing access to markets, skills and even fuel.
Unless the cycle of indecision is broken, the UK not only risks losing its status as a global leader in the nuclear sector, it also risks development of a secure and sustainable power supply for the future, and even the continued operation of its existing nuclear power plants. Weinberg Next Nuclear hope the Government heed this report, and its recommendations. Following the General Election in June, nuclear power policy should come off of hold and onto fast track.