Boris Johnson will outline to industry bosses on Monday what a minister called his ‘gung ho’ approach to boost Britain’s nuclear power sector, as officials draft plans that could target a fivefold increase in capacity by 2050.
The prime minister vowed this month to make “a series of big new bets on nuclear power” and government insiders say it could involve building at least half a dozen major new stations between 2030 and 2050.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week put the brakes on Johnson’s plans to outline an energy security strategy this week amid Treasury Department fears over the cost to the treasury. New nuclear power plants each require nearly £20 billion to build and the industry is prone to cost overruns.
Sunak, who will present his spring statement this week, is trying to contain spending to give him room to cut taxes. “We need to work more on the nuclear strategy before moving forward,” said a chancellor’s ally.
But a cabinet minister said: “Boris has had something of an evangelical conversion in recent months — he’s been really fanatical about nuclear.” The energy strategy is expected before the end of the month.
The war in Ukraine and the rising cost of natural gas have reinforced Johnson’s desire to increase Britain’s domestic energy supply, and his new strategy will include plans for a major expansion of wind and solar power.
But the new nuclear strategy, designed to breathe life into a sector plagued by planning and financial difficulties, will be the most sensitive and difficult to implement as ministers push for a “net zero” emissions target by 2050.
Government insiders say they expect the new energy strategy to include a target for nuclear power generation by 2050, which would be a huge increase over existing plans.
All but one of the UK’s existing fleet of six nuclear power plants will retire by 2030, leaving just 4.45 GW of nuclear capacity – half the output compared to the start of the decade.
But an official working on the energy strategy said a target of 24 GW by 2050 would be “reasonable”; any major new nuclear power plant, such as the one under construction at Hinkley Point C, can generate just over 3GW.
A cross-party pro-nuclear group of MPs has called on ministers to draft a roadmap calling for 15 GW of new nuclear generation by 2035 and 30 GW by 2050. Installed nuclear capacity peaked at 12.7 GW in 1995 .
Johnson will host a roundtable Monday of nuclear industry leaders to discuss domestic energy security and nuclear projects in the UK, including large-scale power plants and small modular reactors (SMRs).
Downing Street said the Prime Minister would discuss “how government and industry can work together to remove barriers and make future nuclear projects in the UK faster and cheaper”.
But the problems in delivering the program are significant. High-ranking government figures say Treasury opposition is slowing progress on plans to build a new nuclear power plant at Wylfa in Anglesey.
Wylfa has the potential to become the UK’s third major project in the new nuclear program – behind Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C – but is in a state of hiatus.
Hitachi, the Japanese conglomerate, dealt a major blow to the government when it abandoned plans to build a nuclear power plant in Wylfa in 2019, with $2.8 billion written off on the project.
Since then, the American nuclear company Westinghouse has formed a consortium with construction group Bechtel to revive the plans. The companies want to build one or two nuclear reactors on the site, along with – possibly – a few SMRs of the kind being developed by Rolls-Royce.
Johnson is said to be excited about Wylfa’s prospects as part of an acceleration of the nuclear program.
But treasury figures, including Sunak, are said to be more cautious, as getting the scheme off the ground would require generous support from the government and taxpayers.
“With Rishi, it’s not like he’s saying no to Wylfa, but there’s a sense of prudence in the treasury that seems to be slowing progress,” a senior government official said.
This post Boris Johnson in ‘gung ho’ pushes for more nuclear power as energy crisis begins to bite was original published at “https://www.ft.com/content/17852c7c-fd92-40cb-b4ec-9767c6069677”