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Budget 2023: Great British Nuclear - what are the plans?

The Chancellor hopes reclassifying nuclear as “environmentally sustainable” will help drive investment in projects like Hinkley Point C in Somerset  (PA Wire)
The Chancellor hopes reclassifying nuclear as “environmentally sustainable” will help drive investment in projects like Hinkley Point C in Somerset (PA Wire)

During the Spring Budget Chancellor Jeremy Hunt outlined the Government’s plan to launch Great British Nuclear (GBN) as one solution to bring down down energy costs in the UK.

He announced on Wednesday that the new flagship body would provide “opportunities across the nuclear supply chain to help provide up to one quarter of our electricity by 2050”.

But there are calls for the Government to get on with the job, with GBN being first announced nearly a year ago.

The British Energy Security Strategy announced in November that GBN would “be tasked with helping projects through every stage of the development process and developing a resilient pipeline of new builds”.

Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said under GBN, the Government plans to build a pipeline of nuclear projects beyond the investment in Sizewell C in Suffolk.

The new nuclear power plant in Suffolk was granted a £700 million Government injection. Ministers said the plant would create 10,000 highly skilled jobs and provide reliable low-carbon power to the equivalent of six million homes for more than 50 years, and is part of efforts towards UK energy security.

Great British Nuclear is being created as the agency to establish “a secure energy future” in Britain following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent affects on energy prices globally.

What are the plans?

Specifics on projects to be overseen by Great British Nuclear have yet to be announced, but revived nuclear plants are in high demand.

The UK was the first country in the world to develop civil nuclear power plants, but by 2028, it’s understood only Sizewell B from the existing fleet will be in operation.

Britain’s last new nuclear power station, Sizewell B, was completed in 1995.

An independent review of the Government’s approach to net zero confirmed that “the main barrier for new nuclear projects is the need for stable, long term policy and funding commitments”.

The report recommended the Government expedites the establishment of GBN in early 2023, by making funding and skills available.

It said the Government and GBN should then set out a clear roadmap in 2023 for reaching a final investment decision on a new nuclear project in the next Parliament. Government should ensure that funding for the project is in place.

Mr Shapps said nuclear must form part of a decarbonised portfolio of energy production.

He told the Environmental Audit Committee on Wednesday: “If you want to get to net zero and get rid of hydrocarbons, we have to accept that base loads are required somewhere. Nuclear power can and should be part of that.”

Mr Shapps said that by launching GBN, the Government will provide a “much more stable platform” for those wanting to invest in UK nuclear power as well as more clarity on the trajectory and pace of its development.

The Government’s website for Great British Nuclear states: “We have been working at pace on the scoping and set up of GBN, with the support of industry and our industry adviser Simon Bowen.

“It’s envisaged that GBN will be tasked with helping projects through every stage of the development process and developing a resilient pipeline of new builds.”

Nuclear power as ‘environmentally sustainable’

On Wednesday Mr Hunt also said that nuclear power will be classed as “environmentally sustainable” in our green taxonomy, to encourage the private sector to invest in the nuclear programme.

“I today confirm that subject to consultation nuclear power will be classed as ‘environmentally sustainable’ in our green taxonomy, giving it access to the same investment incentives as renewable energy. Alongside that will come more public investment,” he said.

The Chancellor also launched the first competition for small modular reactors and reiterated an announcement made in the autumn to invest £700 million in Sizewell C nuclear power station planned in Suffolk.

“[The competition] will be completed by the end of this year and if demonstrated to be viable we will co-fund this exciting new technology,” he explained.

But Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “Just when we needed a solar rooftop revolution, an unblocking and upscaling of renewables, a major street-by-street mass insulation programme, and a commitment to invest in our totally neglected, sewage-filled rivers and seas, we get too slow, too expensive and too dangerous nuclear white elephants.”

Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said Labour wants to create “over a million” jobs in green industries.

Bronwen Smith-Thomas, co-director at the Climate Coalition said: “This government has the chance to kickstart a British golden era for people and planet. This means supporting homegrown renewable energy and buildings upgrades to bring down bills, protecting and restoring our natural world, and providing support to the most vulnerable to insulate them from the damaging impacts of climate change and the energy crisis.”

The Chancellor was criticised for his focus on nuclear and CCS instead of insulation and renewables and MPs have questioned what has changed to make nuclear power environmentally sustainable.