It’s no exaggeration to say that a bomb has gone off under the Government’s energy policy, and it’s of the nuclear sort.
One senior minister described the change of mood to an industry source like this: ‘The UK’s energy policy has been completely rewritten in the last ten days. The light bulb has finally switched on.’
After years of prevarication and muddled policy, government ministers are now acknowledging that Britain’s energy security – and its commitment to net zero by 2050 – is impossible to achieve unless they move swiftly to build more nuclear reactors for electricity generation.
Ministers are now acknowledging that Britain’s energy security is impossible to achieve unless they move swiftly to build more nuclear reactors for electricity generation
The reason is not hard to discover. The combination of worldwide high gas prices, weather conditions which mean wind has been providing some 4 per cent of energy supplies over the last few months and problems with the inter-connectors bringing gas in from Europe have concentrated their minds. If it wasn’t for the lack of wind, you would call it a perfect storm.
At present, nuclear energy hovers between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of total electricity generation but the nuclear fleet is running down, fast, and by 2030 there will be far less capacity because of increased demand from, for example, electric cars.
The Dungeness B reactor was retired in June this year, Hunterston B will shut by Christmas and Hinkley Point B retires next July with Hartlepool and Heysham 1 coming off stream in 2024.
Which is why the nuclear industry says if the change of thinking is serious, ministers must move like lightning to power up the nuclear programme.
This means building at least two new big nuclear stations – Sizewell C in Suffolk and Wylfa on Anglesey, the Horizon site that Hitachi pulled out of a few years ago and which the consortium headed by Bechtel wants to develop.
Only with these two, plus ten SMRs from Rolls-Royce, being built by 2035, could the Government meet the sixth carbon budget as set out by the Climate Change Committee.
If the UK does want to achieve net zero by 2050, then three times that amount of nuclear capacity will be needed.
What can the Government do to speed up such an ambitious and costly programme? First is to push legislation through Parliament in the next few weeks to press the button on the new Regulated Asset Base (RAB) operating model, which brings in private investors, should reduce consumer electricity bills and reduce the cost to taxpayers.
Second, the Treasury, with Rishi Sunak – said to be one of the most vocal converts to nuclear power – needs to confirm that developers can access pre-development funding which was set aside in the spring spending review.
The most promising new project is the Bechtel consortium with Westinghouse which wants to build AP1000 reactors on the Hitachi-owned site at Wylfa.
In parallel, there is a bid from Shearwater to build SMRs on the site but the Nuclear Industry Association says there is room for both projects.
Giving the green-light to Bechtel would be a smart move. Building such projects can take decades but the US firm has a time advantage because the AP1000 has already gone through the UK’s strict regulatory hurdles because it was approved for use at Moorside in Cumbria – since dropped.
The same team who would build on Anglesey has just finished two similar plants in Georgia.
If there is a genuine conversion, ministers should not be afraid of explaining the benefits of going for more nuclear power if they are to keep the lights on long-term.
There are many. It is the most efficient way of halting the UK’s over-reliance on imported gas from Russia and elsewhere to provide energy security, while also achieving carbon targets.
Advances in nuclear technology also mean that over time the price of generation has become far more competitive compared to other sources.
Such a programme would also bring thousands of skilled jobs to the regions which need an economic rocket boost the most. In the jargon, levelling up and powering up.
Everything about the £1.1billion takeover of Blue Prism by US private equity firm Vista Equity Partners looks a little weird.
The robotics specialist has had a torrid five years listed on AIM, with shareholders only recently accusing the board of not investing in the future.
It rather looks as if investors were right, and that the board just wanted out and to take the shilling.
And it’s a fat shilling. The founders and the boss are selling out for more than £130million.
Vista doesn’t even pretend to be on the side of the angels, warning that jobs will be lost to achieve the required synergies.
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