Political uncertainty. Business concern. Impassioned debate.
For once, I am not talking about the future of Britain’s relationship with our European neighbours – instead, I am referring to the future of Britain’s nuclear sector.
A few years ago, there was a general expectation that a fleet of conventional new nuclear power stations would be delivered across the UK. This policy commanded a strong political consensus, clear business support, and the debate was when and how, not if, it would be delivered.
But with the announcements that planned developments at Wylfa and Moorside are now indefinitely suspended, the landscape looks very different. Political support remains there in principle, but is less tied to the vision of a fleet of conventional new nuclear. Businesses are looking to the Government for future direction. And there is a major debate in the industry about the way forward.
At a recent meeting organised by the Nuclear Industry Association I was struck by two main themes: the near universal view that the industry stands at a crossroads; and secondly, by the enduring strength and innovative qualities of the sector.
The industry is pushing technology and techniques to new levels to tackle some of the biggest challenges in any sector, such as decommissioning decades-old nuclear facilities, but without a clear future direction for the industry these skills will be lost to other sectors and countries.
Standing at a crossroads can be scary for some, but it is also an opportunity. The previous vision for the future of nuclear in the UK is in serious question, but this opens up space for alternative options, such as smaller reactors, or for new commercial models which could deliver projects at reduced cost.
This is why we are really looking forward to hearing from leading sector experts, Dr Tim Stone, Fiona Reilly and Matt Rooney who will be joining us at Madano next Tuesday for their take on where the sector is going and what the future for UK nuclear might look like.
There is both an opportunity and need for the sector to reinvent itself to meet the challenges of this century. But before that reinvention, there needs to be a full debate about nuclear’s role, which needs to start now.