Where is UK nuclear going?

Written by Harry Spencer, Senior Account Manager, Energy Practice

With the Committee on Climate Change expected to call for a net zero carbon economy by 2050 later this week, this week’s Madano energy event on ‘What next for UK nuclear’ with Dr Tim Stone, Fiona Reilly and Matt Rooney could not have been timelier.

Achieving a net zero carbon economy by 2050 will require deep decarbonisation across the board. Nuclear can play a key role in achieving this target, and not just through power generation. Event attendees pointed to the potential role of nuclear energy as a source of heat for residential or industrial networks and for use in hydrogen electrolysis.

However, there are significant barriers to achieving this new role for nuclear.

Firstly, outside investors are concerned at the lack of a market framework to deployment for most nuclear projects – a major problem given the extended cost and length of nuclear development when compared to competitors. As observed by one attendee, institutional investors from home and abroad are desperate to invest in UK infrastructure, but feel that the lack of policy certainty makes this impossible.

Another related barrier is a regulatory regime that focuses on the “strike price” of a given technology, a calculation which ignores the wider benefits for the UK’s energy system of nuclear according to one of our guests.

This means that the benefit of nuclear in providing more system inertia is not included in assessments of value. This approach also struggles to account for innovative new proposals, which could see a nuclear energy plant delivering power, heat and hydrogen electrolysis, for example.

Finally, while the Government can adopt a new long-term pathway for nuclear technologies, and a tweaked regulatory regime to ease deployment, several voices opined that the industry itself needs to change by working together.

In particular, the industry needs to be more collaborative and proactive, in making clear the role it can play in decarbonisation – and in what it needs from Government to do so. It cannot wait for Government to take the lead. If it can do so, there is clearly a major role for nuclear energy of all kinds in the new decarbonised economy.