Civil Nuclear Road Map

Backbench Business – in the House of Commons am 2:13 pm ar 22 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on 13 December 2023, on Small nuclear reactors in the transition from fossil fuels, HC 281; Written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, on Small nuclear reactors in the transition from fossil fuels, reported to the House on 13 December 2023, HC 281; and Correspondence from the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee to the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, on Small nuclear reactors in the transition from fossil fuels, reported to the House on 7 February 2024.]

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) 2:32, 22 Chwefror 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the civil nuclear roadmap.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing time for a debate on this very important subject. This is probably the biggest moment for the nuclear industry in the UK for 50 years. The Government have set a very important and ambitious target of an extra 24 GW of nuclear energy into the grid by 2050. It will require a huge feat of civil engineering to create the facilities required to deliver that. We will do that in the context of wishing to see less reliance on imported oil and gas in our economy, with more clean sources of energy and electricity, and recognising that other changes in technology are creating enormous demands for new energy. The impact of artificial intelligence on energy demand will be very significant indeed. A researcher in the Netherlands estimated that the amount of electricity just to power AI in the world by 2027 will require enough electricity to power a country the size of the Netherlands. That is a not insignificant amount and an entirely new demand, in addition to the high levels of water required to power the cooling systems required for the amount of computing power and energy. Our demands for the electricity market are changing, but technology is also changing the impact it will have.

The review that the civil nuclear road map sets out has to consider not only those challenges but the requirement set in 2011, when the current nuclear site list was agreed by Parliament, that it would need to be reviewed in 2025 for the next period. I remember very well, as a new Member of Parliament, the 2011 review, and with the nuclear power station at Dungeness in my constituency. The idea of the site list then was to try to give certainty to communities that nuclear power stations could be developed there, largely alongside existing facilities. Eight locations were agreed. Dungeness in my constituency was not expressly ruled out, but it was not included at that time. I have tried to be an advocate for looking at what is possible for nuclear sites such as Dungeness, and not just looking to say, “Well, if they can’t accommodate a nuclear reactor the size of Hinkley Point C or Sizewell C then there is no future for them at all.”

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Llafur, Warley

Does that not indicate why there ought to be greater latitude in particular when considering small modular reactors, and preferably those produced in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I will come on to that in more detail—that is normally an excuse to say I am not going to answer his question, but I wholeheartedly agree with what he says and I want to give it some attention as I go through my remarks.

The advent of advanced nuclear technologies and small modular reactors is the big thing that is different now compared to 2011. They give us more flexibility in the technologies that can be deployed. I also agree with the premise of the right hon. Gentleman’s point: this is exciting not just because it opens up new opportunities for nuclear power in the UK, but because it creates an opportunity for a renaissance in the civil nuclear industry in the UK. It is particularly exciting to see British firms such as Rolls-Royce leading the development and design of new small modular technologies. While the Government have their competition to identify best bets in terms of technologies to invest in, we need to look not just at the unit price of that technology, but at the wider impact and benefit to the UK economy of investing in the new technology, in particular the modular reactors that can be factory built and assembled. They can be designed not just to meet our energy demand; they could also be an export industry for the future for the UK. That is an incredibly important part of the equation.

In designing the civil nuclear road map and through the creation of Great British Nuclear, the Government have tried to make it as easy as possible for the industry to work with the Government, to understand what the Government’s needs and objectives are, and to understand the technologies that they may seek to invest in. I think all of that is welcomed. Certainly, the people in the industry I have spoken to welcome that step, which creates a degree of certainty. We are looking at far more players to be involved in the UK nuclear market than was the case in the past, with a far greater range of technologies and different businesses investing in them and developing them in the UK, Europe, the United States and further afield. This is all to be welcomed and encouraged.

I appreciate why it is difficult for the Government now, as it would have been in the past, to say, “These are the technologies that we know with certainty we can back” because the range is so great, but nevertheless we need to give certainty to the market and investors. The Government’s competition for SMRs is also important, but there will be developers of technologies that do not necessarily require Government subsidy and support, but simply seek sites where they can deploy their technology and know they connect to the grid.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Llafur, Warley

The hon. Gentleman talks about the competition. I would also mention the time it is taking. Is the underlying problem not that while we have a manufacturer with a proven capacity to produce modular reactors, as it has been doing for the Royal Navy for many decades, the United States is out there selling its technology with the full backing of the US Government and their various departments right the way across Europe and other parts of the world? We are just considering it. Are we not hobbling British industry and the possibility of us being involved, as he rightly said, in this exciting new development?

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

I am sure the Minister will speak for himself on that particular point, but that is not a characterisation I would share. What the competition and Great British Nuclear are doing is giving a very strong signal to businesses such as Rolls-Royce not only that this is a sound technology to invest in, but that there is potentially a very robust market for it in the UK. That is what I would like to see and why I said earlier that when these technologies are considered we need to think about the broader impact on UK manufacturing and jobs that supporting and backing these technologies would bring, not just the manufacture of modular reactors and electricity.

I have met Rolls-Royce and seen its SMR plans and designs. They are incredibly exciting. As the right hon. Gentleman says, this is technology that has been developed for the Royal Navy, and its applications for civil nuclear are very exciting indeed. I hope that it is very successful with it. I would certainly be very happy to see a Rolls-Royce SMR in my constituency at Dungeness.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Ceidwadwyr, Suffolk Coastal

I do support the introduction of small modular reactors, but I hope the House would not want Rolls-Royce to be given preferential treatment by the Office for Nuclear Regulation in its generic design assessment, because we need to ensure that it is safe. Does my hon. Friend agree that while Sizewell C is now getting under way, it is important that the contractors do honour what they say they will do, such as sourcing the water and ensuring that skills and jobs are happening locally, in order to give people confidence? We know how long these projects have taken to get off the ground.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

I agree with my right hon. Friend, particularly on her point about the labour markets, and in the Sizewell area that is incredibly important. I know from Dungeness in my constituency that it is the certainty of having long-term employment that attracts some of the best talent and encourages people, including apprentices, to join the industry. The Minister will probably want to comment on the substance of my right hon. Friend’s remarks.

In the time available to me, I want focus on the site lists consultations element of the civil nuclear road map. The Government are saying that the criteria that were applied to nuclear sites in 2011 should still apply today, and in most cases that is true. Safety, access to water—where appropriate—and grid connections could all be important considerations when it is being decided where the sites could be, along with habitat implications and, in coastal areas, flood risk. All those are constants. The one factor that has completely changed since 2011 is the size of the footprint of the nuclear facility itself.

In Dungeness, an important factor has been the existence of a special protected area as a consequence of the unique shingle peninsula on which it sits, which is the second biggest in the world and a habitat that is unique in Europe, let alone the UK—the biggest shingle peninsula in the world is Cape Canaveral, in the United States. The protections are there for areas of the shingle banks that have never been disturbed. However, there are plenty of areas surrounding existing nuclear sites that are, in effect, brownfield sites where that disturbance has taken place. As they are not in special protected areas, I believe that future development would be possible.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

The hon. Gentleman is advancing a powerful argument. If we are to persuade people that SMRs are suitable for use outside conventional nuclear sites, siting them in places such as Dungeness and Trawsfynydd which do not fit under the 2011 list conveys an important message. We have to be able to persuade people that small modular reactors can be used in other areas, as well as not misusing sites that might be better used for larger nuclear projects.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

I completely agree. I have a request to make to the Government, who will be considering the responses to the consultation on the road map. I was keen to hold this debate now, during the period of the consultation, so that Members can have their own views as well. I appreciate that it would not be easy or desirable for Great British Nuclear to make technology-by-technology recommendations for every nuclear site in the country, but there should be a recognition of footprint size. There are sites, such as Dungeness in my constituency and Sizewell in that of my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey, where smaller facilities could easily be built. They could be built on decommissioned land, where old power stations have been subject to advance decommissioning. They could be built on land that was used as the building works site for the construction of the existing Dungeness B station, or even on the land that is currently a car park for the existing nuclear stations.

We need to give the market some certainty that buildings of a certain size can sit within the footprint of an existing nuclear site, on land that does not have the highest levels of habitat protection, but at present that is not envisaged. What the consultation envisages is that every site on the list must be able to do everything. If there is to be no distinguishing feature between different sources of technology, we are not distinguishing between a single SMR unit and something as big as Hinkley Point C. There must clearly be some relaxation, because otherwise other sites that are currently among the eight locations on the existing list will not be included on the new list.

The industry will have an opportunity to come forward with recommendations to the Department and make a case for individual sites—but obviously without the certainty of knowing that it is believed that technologies below a certain footprint would be suitable there—and to take into account all the other important site considerations such as the local workforce, grid connections, access to water for cooling if it is required.

I think it would be much better if, following the consultation on the civil nuclear road map, we could provide certainty about the types of technology that are possible on some of the smaller sites, so that developers and businesses coming forward with those technologies would know they look with confidence at some of those sites. I think that would make a huge difference to sites such as Dungeness, which in other respects ticks every box in respect of its suitability for new nuclear. It is on the grid, it has a domestic labour market, and it has strong support from the local community. In almost every case, the existing nuclear sites are the most supportive of investments in new nuclear, because people are already familiar with the industry and know how many jobs would be created.

If the Minister could say something about this today it would be much appreciated, but I should certainly like it to feature in the Government’s response to the consultation. As I said earlier, I am not seeking site-specific information about each technology, of which there could be many more in the future, but I hope it will at least be recognised that the big difference between SMRs and reactors the size of Hinkley Point is literally that: their size. SMRs will not be suitable everywhere—in fact, they will be suitable in relatively few places—but other technologies will be suitable on a wider base. If the Government are to meet their target, they will have to do so by deeming sites that are not currently being deployed to be suitable for SMRs. We should give the industry as much backing as possible in making that investment.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 2:45, 22 Chwefror 2024

I commend Damian Collins for initiating the debate. It may not surprise him that I will approach it from a different angle, providing the opposition, as it were.

In my view, this should be called the nuclear road map fantasy. Even if we put aside my objection and that of my party to new nuclear power, all the evidence and all the understanding of the development or non-development of nuclear power in the UK over the past decade point to the fact that this will not happen. As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, the 2011 plan never came to fruition. It is obvious that the nuclear ambitions have not been fulfilled in the past 13 years.

Every pro-nuclear enthusiast seems to ignore the fairly recent market failure whereby Hitachi walked away from Wylfa and Oldbury and Toshiba walked away from Moorside. Notwithstanding the intended competition for the construction of all these new nuclear sites, EDF and China General Nuclear remained the only show in town, and EDF is still the only show in town as the only company willing to build large-scale nuclear. EDF has a blank cheque when it is at the negotiating table, because there is nowhere else for the Government to go. Large-scale nuclear ambitions also ignore the fact that as a concept the EPR design has been a failure, with every single EPR project in the world being over budget, late and experiencing technical difficulties. Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 was 15 years late. Flamanville in France is 12 years late and at four times its original budget. Taishan in China was held up as the delivery exemplar when it was commissioned, but has been plagued by safety concerns owing to rod damage, and has been offline as much as it has been online since it was commissioned.

We were told that the lessons learned from all the problems with all the other EPR projects would be put into place in Hinkley and that it would be much more efficiently delivered, so let us look at Hinkley Point C. In 2016, its estimated cost was £18 billion, but EDF has recently updated that estimate to £48 billion in today’s prices—a mere £30 billion overspend. Instead of generating power in 2025, it will now be as late as 2031. As costs have continued to spiral, the Government’s attitude remains that it does not really matter for the taxpayer, because all the risk sits with EDF.

However, China General Nuclear, which is a partner in the project, has already reached its cap on the money and capital it is willing to put in, so clearly EDF is now having to find a lot more borrowing than it anticipated. Frankly, it beggars belief that the Minister and the Government claim not to be speaking to EDF about this, especially when just last week the chief executive of EDF, Luc Rémont, stated:

“We’re confident we can find a pathway with British authorities on Hinkley Point C and Sizewell.”

When will the Government admit that Hinkley Point C will need some sort of bailout to allow it to get to completion, or is the intention to throw more money at Sizewell to offset Hinkley’s financial black hole for EDF? The Government also need to come clean on why they put back the contractual payment cut-off dates for Hinkley by six years. Do they know that there is potentially further bad news for Hinkley?

The lessons learned have not worked out for Hinkley, but now we are told that it has been a good learning project and that Sizewell C will be different and will be delivered efficiently, learning from the lessons of the delivery of Hinkley. Again, this is head-in-the-sand stuff. The last Government estimate for Sizewell C was £20 billion, but we now know that Hinkley will cost nearly £50 billion, so it is quite clear that Sizewell C will cost £50 billion—a lot more capital than the Government have intimated they are required to raise. It is no wonder that pension funds have been running a mile from investing in Sizewell C.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Ceidwadwyr, Suffolk Coastal

It is not a straightforward comparison, because I think Sizewell C is still in line with its 2015 prices. It is fairly standard to try to stick with an estimate, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As the local MP for Sizewell C, I am concerned that there have been significant delays at Hinkley. I appreciate that the SNP does not approve of nuclear power at all, but I would like to understand why he is concerned that the Government will have to bail out Hinkley C, when that is clearly not the situation. I would be interested to explore why he thinks that is the case.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

I quoted the chief executive of EDF, who says he hopes to find a pathway with the British authorities, which suggests that EDF wants to be talking about getting more money. The reality is that if there is a £30 billion overspend, EDF must recover that money somewhere, if it can afford to deliver the project without getting a bailout and in line with the 35-year contract it has for selling electricity. If the company has been able to swallow that level of overspend, it shows that the site rate originally agreed in the £18 billion estimate for construction was way too high, because the original £18 billion was supposed to cover contingency as well. Something does not stack up, given that there is such an overspend and such a delay. The delay means that it will be even longer before EDF starts getting payment for the project, so something is not quite right and we need to get a better understanding of that.

I disagree that Sizewell C is still in line with its 2015 prices. At the end of the day, although some lessons can be learned and replicated, the site for Sizewell C is smaller, more constrained and geologically different. It is surrounded by marshes and adjacent to an internationally renowned nature reserve. It is also in one of the fastest-eroding coastlines in Europe, which is subject to rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. In other words, I would argue that Sizewell C is a daft location for a new nuclear power station. With the groundwork and initial civil engineering that will be required, it is not a straightforward carbon copy of Hinkley. We need to know the official estimate for Sizewell C. Taxpayers deserve some transparency, especially given that the Government have already allocated £2.5 billion of taxpayers’ money to EDF for the development of the project, just to get to the stage of a final investment decision. Enough money has already been ploughed into Sizewell C, yet there is still a lot of uncertainty.

On the wider programme delivery considerations for these large-scale nuclear sites, Hinkley will have taken 15 years to complete, if it is completed, by 2031. Even if we are optimistic about Sizewell C, which will be delivered much more quickly, it is still going to take at least 10 years, so it could be between 2035 and 2040 before it is delivered. These timescales alone show the folly of relying on nuclear for decarbonisation and of planning for nuclear to deliver 25% of generation output capacity by 2050, as set out in the road map. It also shows the folly of the road map stating a delivery target of 3 GW to 7 GW every five years. It is a fantasy target, as is 24 GW overall, unfortunately.

The concept of 24 GW, or 25% of generation output, is the wrong model, given that nuclear power is so inflexible. Such a large nuclear output on the grid means that, at times, even greater constraint payments will be paid for renewable energy companies to turn off their turbines.

Large-scale nuclear cannot deliver the intended five-year targets, so how will those targets be met? As Damian Collins outlined, the road map talks about small modular reactors. The name sounds innocuous, but do people really believe that a footprint the size of two football pitches is small? It clearly is not, and there is not yet a single licensed prototype in the UK. Good luck in the competition for SMRs, considering that none has been licensed and approved for construction in the UK.

Of the designs that the Office for Nuclear Regulation is considering, the only one to have reached stage 2 is the Rolls-Royce proposal, with the ONR’s stage 2 assessments due to conclude in July 2024. Stage 3 timescales are still to be confirmed, so the reality is that SMRs are just a glint in the UK’s eye at the moment. There is no understanding or certainty on timescales, even if SMRs do come to fruition.

NuScale is supposedly the world leader in SMR technology, and it has just given up on its proposed SMR in Utah because costs have ballooned to £7 billion. The cost of electricity generation has rocketed, too. Our road map tells us that the UK will pioneer and lead the way on new nuclear and SMRs, but that does not make sense. The Government estimate that SMRs will cost £2 billion a go, which makes no sense given the cost of the project in Utah. The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne, is in his place, and I welcome the questions he has put to the Government. The Government need to consider this closely, and I look forward to their response.

Why does the road map outline two possible funding models—contracts for difference and a regulated asset base? At a £92.50 per megawatt-hour strike rate over 35 years, Hinkley Point is way more expensive than renewable energy at circa £40 to £50 per megawatt-hour over just a 15-year concession period. When we debated the legislation on the regulated asset base funding model, the Government told us that the CFD model does not work for nuclear as it is too expensive, and that switching to RAB would save £40 billion to £80 billion over the lifetime of a nuclear project. If that is the case, why are two funding models listed in the road map? Are the Government now concerned that RAB transfers too much risk to the bill payer? Are they concerned about repeating what happened in South Carolina where, under a regulated asset base model, a company abandoned the construction of a nuclear power station and ratepayers were left paying for a power station that was never completed? What is to stop that happening at Sizewell?

The road map outlines the need for a geological disposal facility, but there are no plans in place to show how such a facility will be identified, constructed and paid for. What is the estimated cost of a GDF? How big will it need to be? Will it be one facility or will there be more, depending on how many nuclear power stations are built? Worryingly, the road map talks about having interim storage in the meantime. This shows that there is still no solution in place for disposing of radioactive nuclear waste, other than burying it for hundreds of years. Our current decommissioning legacy is estimated to be £124 billion, so why do we want to create another generation of nuclear waste for future generations to pay for? There is always a risk that a future Government will need to pick up the tab for decommissioning, no matter what companies sign up to at the outset.

Finally, we are told that nuclear is required because of its reliability and because it produces power when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. Over the last 12 years, however, each nuclear reactor has been offline for roughly a quarter of the year, so the dependability of nuclear is not a given. Indeed, Heysham and Hartlepool power stations are offline and have been since December, so two out of three in the existing fleet in England are offline. Before Hinkley comes online, seven of the original eight nuclear stations operating just a few years ago will have gone offline. If we can operate with such a depletion of the existing nuclear fleet before Hinkley comes online, that undermines the argument that we need nuclear to supply the baseload. The Government clearly do not think that the lights will go out when the rest of these nuclear stations are being decommissioned before Hinkley comes online. To me, the road map seems to be all false aspiration and not enough substance, and it flies in the face of the reality of what we know about the operation of nuclear in the past few years and how the market really sits at the moment.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 3:00, 22 Chwefror 2024

I am grateful to Alan Brown for referring to the letter that the Environmental Audit Committee has just sent under my name to the Secretary of State. I am pleased that my hon. Friend Damian Collins allowed the letter to be tagged to this debate when he secured it, and I congratulate him on doing so. It is on an important subject and, from our Committee’s point of view, it is timely, because we wrote to the Secretary of State only a few weeks ago, before the recess.

Some members of my Committee—it is a very diverse Committee, with a complete range of opinions on this subject—have very strong reservations about the role and scope of nuclear energy in the UK, but I will start by placing on record my personal support for nuclear energy and the SMR programme, which was the subject of our letter and will be the subject of my remarks today. It is an important part of the path to net zero, contributing not just to baseload, but to the significant increase in electricity generation that will be required if we manage to decarbonise our economy, as is supported across the House.

I look forward to listening to the contribution from the Opposition spokesman, Dr Whitehead, but the Labour party’s energy policy is in complete disarray. I therefore welcome the stark contrast that the Minister has provided—particularly in his new role as Minister for nuclear—by getting nuclear on the road to regeneration as a core part of our energy mix as we move towards net zero. It is precisely because the Labour party, during its last period in office, made no decisions and would not even debate the subject that we have such a skills shortage in the UK civil nuclear sector. That was picked up in an intervention by John Spellar. No new nuclear reactors have come online in the UK since 1995 because of that indecision, so I welcome the civil nuclear road map, which sets out the Government’s ambition to reach as much as 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050. The intent to deploy SMRs will assist the UK in reaching that target, as is set out in the British energy security strategy.

I ask the Minister to consider the concerns that I raised in the Committee’s letter of 13 February to the Secretary of State, among which is the fact that the investment decisions sought between 2030 and 2044 are likely, on current plans, to realise generating capacity of between 9 GW and 21 GW. The Minister, who is very good at maths, will recognise that that is quite a range: 12 GW, or half the Government’s 24 GW upper target for nuclear capacity by 2050.

Great British Nuclear told our Committee that the Government’s target of producing up to 24 GW of nuclear power was not sufficient to give industry confidence about the scale of investment that would be required and suggested that a specific programme should be required to facilitate industry confidence. Further clarity—this was the essence of my letter—would be welcomed. Despite the Government’s assertions in response to the Committee’s recent intervention, as it stands the road map does not offer as much clarity as industry and investors require.

Given the increasing international interest and competition in investment in building nuclear energy capacity, we need to recognise that the UK market for creating that additional capacity cannot be considered in isolation. We are in an international race to transition our economy into a decarbonised world in which many other countries are looking to build nuclear capacity. Those involved in delivering that capacity will have choices: where to invest, to build and to bid.

A key role for Government in achieving their objective of introducing SMR nuclear energy is to provide as much clarity as possible in the process for decision making, the timescale to which they are working and the manner of the procurement process, including funding and contracting models. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to make the Government’s expectation on gigawatt roll-out as clear as possible, so that the contribution SMRs are expected to make to the electricity generation mix in the UK by 2035 is made available to industry. That will give it the confidence it needs to invest in the programme to the extent the Government would like and according to the timetable they have indicated in the road map. I assume Ministers are as convinced as I am about the future role of baseload generation in supplying electricity to the grid, alongside the power to be provided by renewables, and I am sure the Minister will need no further invitation to set that out in his response.

On current estimates, it seems unlikely that SMR deployment will be contributing generating capacity to the grid until 2035, the date by which the Government expect the GB electricity grid to have been decarbonised, with both Hinkley and Sizewell likely to be operational in the early 2030s. Quite how the Labour party believes it can decarbonise the grid by 2030, a full five years ahead of that, against all consensus of prevailing expert advice, is a matter for Labour, but it seems wholly fanciful and frankly misleading to the British public.

So what will the additional generating capacity to be delivered through an SMR fleet provide? There are strong suggestions in the road map and its supporting papers that a fleet of SMRs based on advanced nuclear technologies will have applications beyond power generation, but until those technologies are proven to be viable for deployment in SMRs, with the benefits that a modular approach to construction is expected to provide, which were highlighted by my hon. Friend Damian Collins in introducing the debate, they remain some way off being ready for investment.

Not only is nuclear, and the SMR approach to deployment, a crucial component of reaching net zero, but there are significant economic benefits to the UK if we are a leader in this technology, including a large potential export market for SMR units. The UK’s SMR programme is in an advanced position among western countries. It has the potential to facilitate a nascent export market and deliver new skilled jobs across the UK.

Along with my right hon. Friend Matt Hancock, in 2015, when I was Minister for defence equipment, science and technology and had responsibility for defence nuclear procurement, I was proud to launch the coalition Government’s programme for sustaining the UK’s nuclear skills. The competitive advantage we have in this field is potentially huge, if properly resourced and incentivised.

However, all of this requires the Government to flesh out the road map in ways that further demonstrate a long-term commitment to the UK’s nuclear future, and to learn from the issues in procuring gigawatt-scale nuclear when developing its strategy to deliver nuclear through SMRs. Simon Bowen, whom I commend for his clear leadership of Great British Nuclear, explained to the Committee that between one and four SMR designs are to be selected for Government contracts, with at least one SMR project to be taken to final investment decision by 2029.

On the issue of the timetable, I was disappointed that the road map removed reference to clarity of the timeline for the conclusion of the current design competition, signalling that the Government may push back awarding contracts to winners of the SMR design competition beyond summer 2024 as originally intended. I hope the Minister will use this opportunity to clarify when he expects to announce the outcome, and hopefully that will be prior to the summer recess. Any of us who have held responsibility for procurement in Government will know that time is a constant pressure, so I encourage the Minister to do all he can while in post to put in place the right processes early, so that deadlines do not slip.

Our Committee has said that, in the interests of parliamentary and public confidence in both the expenditure of public money and the timely delivery of expected benefits, the SMR programme should be fully subject to a value for money audit by the National Audit Office, provided that this in itself does not add delay to the delivery. I recognise the pressure to streamline planning and regulatory processes, but the Committee thought it vital that robust governance and safety arrangements were maintained. This is not an area where Ministers will want to cut comers.

While I am on my feet, I ask the Minister to comment in his closing remarks on media reports that Great British Nuclear is in discussion with EDF to purchase a part of the existing nuclear site at Heysham as a likely location for one of the first SMR facilities. My hon. Friend David Morris—a neighbour of yours, Mr Deputy Speaker—in whose constituency Heysham sits, cannot be here for this debate, but he has told me that the site in his constituency has grid and rail connections, a supportive community, and, clearly, a highly skilled workforce—the largest of any generating nuclear site in the UK—which could support the operation of any future nuclear development at Heysham. In order to help accelerate deployment once the successful designs have been selected, which other speakers in this debate have called for, can the Minister confirm whether GBN could make a start on preparing one or more sites for the eventual successful bidders, once the Government have announced which sites they have designated for initial deployment?

Finally, the fact that every nuclear power plant started life under a Conservative Government demonstrates our willingness to make important decisions for the long- term future of this country. I welcome the Government’s plans, as they represent the biggest expansion of nuclear power for, I believe, 70 years—my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said 50 years—which will lead to a quadrupling of nuclear capacity by 2050. The UK can once again become a leading nation in providing civil nuclear energy, and this Government can take credit for taking the key decisions to bring that about. It would be great to expedite those decisions as soon as possible.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General) 3:12, 22 Chwefror 2024

We have already had mention of the significance of net zero. We know that, alongside that, the demand for electricity will increase exponentially. We know, too, that energy security not just for the United Kingdom, but for the supplies of electricity that we currently receive from European countries—or the prices that they will be prepared to pay for electricity and energy—will affect what we produce here. Ireland, to the west of the United Kingdom and, very significantly, to the west of Wales, is also going through the same thought processes about its needs for electricity.

The all-party parliamentary group on nuclear energy paid a visit to Finland. Alongside the great significance of employment, which is in no way insignificant in any of our constituencies—least of all in one such as Dwyfor Meirionnydd, which is one of the lowest-paid constituencies in the UK—there are other socioeconomic drivers, which could be part of this programme and which are implicit in the road map. One of those drivers, which we have not considered in sufficient depth, is the cost of electricity in the United Kingdom.

Again, I speak for my constituency when I say that we, alongside Merseyside, pay among the highest standing charges—if not the highest standing charges—in the UK. Yet we have a tradition of generating electricity. I can think of a hydro production facility in Tanygrisiau, which is producing and feeding into the grid and goes over some of the poorest-built housing that we know of in my constituency, and certainly among the poorest-built housing in western Europe. There is a deep anomaly here. We know how much energy poverty is hitting our communities. We must be looking in future not just at the boon that comes with employment, but at the boon that comes from generating electricity. In Finland, for example, large-scale power stations pay in to real estate taxes. They pay so much that everyone else pays less. In France, people pay less for electricity when they are in the environs of a generating station. These are things that we need to consider, because as things stand we are dealing with inequality and people suffering from power poverty.

Like Damian Collins, I want to speak about the decommissioned power station in my constituency, but first I welcome the announcement on Wylfa. It is the policy of my party, Plaid Cymru, to support development at Wylfa and Trawsfynydd, although not at any more sites in Wales. I previously worked in further education. We saw expectations and hopes raised and then dashed in communities, which is of course what has happened at Wylfa in the past. I urge the Government to ensure that what is proposed is robust, resilient and sustainable, and that the development is brought forward. I remember a programme of apprentices who had to finish their apprenticeships elsewhere because they were no longer able to do so at Wylfa. That is very damaging. There is immense potential, but this must not be just a political boon in the run-up to a general election. These schemes matter immensely to our communities, and must not be handled lightly.

Trawsfynydd, just like Dungeness, is a site that did not find its way on to the 2011 list, for reasons that were perfectly understandable at the time, but I would strongly argue that it should be under consideration in the here and now. Why? First, I will namecheck a constituent, Rory Trappe, who, when he worked at Trawsfynydd—he was also the Prospect union rep—almost single-handedly got Trawsfynydd mentioned in the Financial Times and elsewhere as the first site for which an SMR was being considered. That raised people’s hopes in my constituency. As I mentioned, the difference that would make to salaries in an area such as Meirionnydd in Gwynedd is immense. It has been part of the Ambition North Wales growth deal as well. Public money has been allocated to Trawsfynydd, but there is now a question mark hanging over that funding.

Another advantage of the site is that we have grid connectivity. I know that for some other sites that will be a question; there will be a cost, public controversy, and issues over pylons, but at Trawsfynydd, grid connectivity exists. The site is entirely in public ownership. There is a question about the best use of public money. Trawsfynydd was not on the 2011 list because it was on a lake, rather than on the sea. It was recognised then that the site was not sufficiently supplied with water for large-scale development in the future. That comes back to an argument that I raised in my intervention: if SMRs are to be shown to be suitable on sites other than conventional sites, the Government should look at how they can show that on the ground. Again, that was one of Trawsfynydd’s original positive points.

Alongside that, the Welsh Government have invested Cwmni Egino as a development company for the site. That appears to have been disregarded in the criteria. I am sure that the criteria for GBN were very worth while, but that factor, which was unique to Wales, was not considered. I strongly urge that it now be considered. Finally, there is a mix for the area. We have a hydro-generation scheme at Maentwrog, so old that it existed even before the national grid. We also have a company called Ynni Twrog with a local scheme for energy and a scheme for community energy. It wants to engage with the profits generated from Maentwrog. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss that further, and everything else that I have raised, with the Minister.

Trawsfynydd ceased to generate over 30 years ago. The fear is about what is being proposed now. I will be told that Trawsfynydd is not off the list, and I know that other sorts of technologies will be mentioned, but they are 30 years away. That is 60 years without any generation at a publicly owned site. That is more than a professional lifetime. This is a waste of a resource. We are talking about something that would make an immense difference to the area, and to north-west Wales as a whole. I would like to know what the Minister proposes for the site. Is there a possibility of an SMR? If the Minister proposes an alternative technology, what is it? How realistic is that? Are we talking about medical isotopes as well, because that has been mooted? I have mooted it, because there is a security question over their supply. I reiterate that this is a waste of a public resource. Just like at Dungeness, we have so much that we could be making better use of. I urge the Minister to consider how best to do that.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Ceidwadwyr, Mole Valley 3:19, 22 Chwefror 2024

I am a little cautious about rising to speak, because like other Members in the past, I have great enthusiasm and a great understanding of the need, but considerable ignorance of the physics involved, having left physics behind 30 or 40 years ago.

I have two personal links to this matter, the first being a slightly amusing one. I lived in a little place called Richmond in the north of the south island of New Zealand. Just down the road is a place called Appleby, which is even smaller. In the 1870s, the school at Appleby had four pupils. One of them was Ernest Hemingway. Sorry, it was not Ernest Hemingway. [Interruption.] It was—our nuclear man. His first invention was a potato masher for his grandmother, which I thought was quite an interesting link because, as we all know, he went on to smash the atom, as it has been put. My enthusiasm comes from recognition that we must have nuclear power in this country, even if we take into account the point about hydroelectric, but without the facilities, we cannot have it.

My second link to this matter is that a firm in my constituency, KBR, is a power in nuclear production. It welcomes this road map, but has concerns about it. I invite the Minister to have a roundtable discussion; he could bring in the key players to sit down with him and talk the whole project through. KBR’s feeling—and I sense this as well—is that we have a classic case of UK caution in this area. We had a positive response to small modular reactors in the case of Rolls-Royce and TerraPower, but we do not seem to be getting stuck in with and behind advanced modular reactors, as has already been mentioned.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Ceidwadwyr, Mole Valley

I think the right hon. Member might make this rather difficult for me because of my lack of knowledge, but I will give way.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Pairing Whip (Commons)

I promise the hon. Member that I will not. As someone who is very pro-nuclear, I believe that one big issue is that we have loads of reviews, and identify all the problems and what we will do, and then never actually do it. If we do get around to building a station, we build one—not a number of them; just one. Then, a number of years after that, we might build another one, but to a completely different design. That is how we keep going in this country. Does he agree?

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Ceidwadwyr, Mole Valley

Thank you. The Whip has saved me! I had actually worked it out and was going to bring it up. The other thing that rather kicked my memory was that when I went out to the same place last September, I stayed at the Rutherford hotel. Oh dear; my English and English literature are better than my physics, I concede.

I agree with Mark Tami. That is the point that KBR and others are making: this is an opportunity that we have the distinctly British possibility of missing. KBR is going in particular for AMRs. It has come back to me and complained, as it will to the Minister—just to prepare him for that meeting—about our clumsy development consent order, which delays everything, is bureaucratic and problematic, and could be considerably easier. As a result, we are slipping behind some of the rest of the world. For example, the United States advanced reactor and advanced modular reactor technology developer, TerraPower, has a financed match programme well under way that will achieve power generation in the US by 2030. We have that opportunity, and we have the right attitude, but we are not doing it.

I stop at this point, having made my complaint and missed Lord Rutherford’s name. We owe our nation the facilities to produce the extra 40% of power that we will need when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow. The water will keep running, but that is a very minor part of our power. We do not have those facilities, and if we miss this opportunity, we will hand our children a low-grade state. While I welcome the road map, it is not enough. It does not move fast enough, and it does not contain the funding we need, but it does have the co-operation of the industry, which will bring its money bags with it. As such, I invite the Minister to come along and talk to some of the key people in a short roundtable discussion. Lord Rutherford will be there in the walls behind us.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

Before we go into the wind-ups, I remind Members that there is a second debate, which we would like to get on to as quickly as we can to give other Members as much opportunity to discuss their issue as possible. I ask Members to leave two minutes at the end for Philip Dunne as well.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member) 3:26, 22 Chwefror 2024

I will be mindful of that, Mr Deputy Speaker.

It is fair to say that while there are very different opinions on nuclear energy, and indeed on the civil nuclear road map, we can all agree on how important energy is to our future—the future of all nations across the UK—and, indeed, that it is becoming an increasingly important resource across the world. As a member of the SNP, representing the Scottish constituency of Livingston, I am proud that we are an energy-rich nation. We in Scotland are particularly rich in renewable energy, and we want to see those resources made the most of. I do not believe, nor does my party, that nuclear is the way forward.

The effects of climate change and resource competition have demonstrated that access to the amount of energy we need is not a given, and we must act to ensure that we have secure and sustainable energy resources. However, the goal of energy security cannot be achieved by going backwards, which many SNP Members feel is what is happening. It is interesting that even Members in this debate who support nuclear energy are critical of the road map. My hon. Friend Alan Brown, who is not supportive of nuclear energy, made a very pertinent point; he described that road map as a fantasy. That is probably the best and fairest description that could be given.

None the less, Members—particularly those who have constituency interests—raised pertinent and serious issues about cost and delivery throughout the debate. As we have heard, the cost of nuclear energy is staggering. The numbers we have heard in this debate are almost inconceivable: £35 billion for Hinkley Point C, including a £2.3 billion budget increase this year alone, and an eye-watering approximation of £20 billion for Sizewell C’s budget. For some context, the UK Government will spend only £1 billion to increase the availability of hospital beds in NHS England, and only £4.1 billion on England’s new childcare plan—a stark contrast to the cost of nuclear energy.

Every single project run by EDF, the company commissioned to build Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, has run over budget and between six and 14 years behind schedule. At a time when we face a cost of energy and cost of living crisis, that is not value for money; the plan is not efficient, effective or practical. What is more, those large investments come at the expense of green energy development in the UK. Non-nuclear renewable energy sources are credible options to solve energy instability. Scotland has proven that it can fuel its entire country and more just with wind power—in fact, according to National Grid, Scotland’s full energy mix has been keeping the lights on in England. We are doing our good turn, but the reality is that money invested in nuclear projects is taking away from investment in green energy, particularly in Scotland.

Turning to grid connection, an issue that a number of Members have raised, I recently met with a developer who is trying to develop a solar project in my constituency. I had concerns about how close it was to houses in my constituency; these are new developments, and there are still lots of areas that are being looked at. However, that developer said to me that if the project had been built in the south of England, it would have been half the size—it needed to be twice the size because of the grid connection charges. As we heard from my right hon. Friend Liz Saville Roberts, the grid connection charges and the standing charges in her constituency are absolutely outrageous. The green industrial revolution is the greatest economic opportunity of the 21st century, and it will deliver more jobs, cheaper energy and greater economic growth, but this focus on a blank cheque investment in unproven nuclear power is utterly ludicrous.

At the end of the day, we need energy in order for the United Kingdom to function, and fuel is becoming a scarce resource. Action must be taken to resolve that—this much we can all agree on—but the civil nuclear road map does not even solve the problem. In fact, the plan, as we have heard, focuses largely on the great development of small modular reactors, but the proposed 300 MW SMRs appear to be based on the 1,500 MW design that has not actually been built, making the technology in the civil nuclear road map unproven. To have such an important road map and spend so much public money on it, and to have at the heart of it a technology that is unproven just does not make sense.

As if that was not enough, these SMRs are thought to produce up to 30 times more waste than conventional nuclear reactors. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun highlighted, waste is one of our major concerns. We are seeing water pollution across the UK, with sewage being pumped into rivers and seas, particularly on the coasts of England, and now we want to dump nuclear waste in bunkers—or, according to this road map, not actually to have any proper plans, but just to kick the can down the road.

Scotland, and the rest of the UK, needs a Government who will deliver a comprehensive energy strategy that includes jobs and lower bills, and that grows the economy. We deserve a plan that can unleash our full green energy potential, and Scotland’s future growth and green future will come from investment in renewable energy, not nuclear. The UK-wide focus on nuclear energy runs counter to common sense, frankly. We have seen projects—and I know the Minister knows this and, I hope, feels it keenly—that were cancelled, as when I worked in the north-east of Scotland in the energy industry myself, and saw that repeatedly with carbon capture, with the devastation that wreaked on the industry.

Sadly, we cannot trust the UK Conservative Government with our energy policy. At a time when other countries are ramping up investment in green energy, Westminster is showing itself to be incapable of delivering a credible plan. It is clear, as this debate has shown, that the UK Government’s civil nuclear road map does not deliver.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero) 3:32, 22 Chwefror 2024

First, I congratulate Damian Collins on securing this timely debate via the Backbench Business process. That is extraordinarily efficient, since the road map was published only on 26 January. To get a parliamentary debate in less than a month of that publication is good going indeed, so congratulations go to him.

I need to say at the outset, for the elimination of any doubt, that the Opposition consider that nuclear will play a significant role in our low-carbon economy for the future, and we therefore support its development over the future period. However, the very substantial questions that have been raised this afternoon are about what that development will consist of, how it will be organised, and what sites may or may not be available for its development, as well as a number of related issues.

It is good that we now have a nuclear road map, but I think it is fair to draw attention, as other hon. Members have done—the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne, and the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe—to a number of the issues in the overall headline in the nuclear road map, which is that there should be a 24 GW target for nuclear development out to 2050.

By the way, contrary to the suggestion that the previous Labour Government did nothing on nuclear, in 2009 there was a nuclear national policy statement that set out the sites that should be made available for new nuclear and started the process of discussing those sites with developers. The problem is that since then, yes, there was a revised EN-6 national policy statement, but not a single electron of nuclear power has appeared between 2009 and the present. We are talking about a target for the future in the context of serious delays as far as nuclear is concerned.

Yes, we must talk about that target and what the energy mix will consist of for the future, but we must also talk about whether those things will materialise in the way envisaged, and about how we can overcome the substantial delays that seem to be baked in to the process of nuclear development. It is not clear whether that target will largely be filled by gigawatt-sized plants or by small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors. It is not clear what consideration should or will be given to the mix of nuclear, as it will sit in what will be a very different power mix from hitherto. What planning will be undertaken to ensure that such a mix will be optimal, given the need to have power systems that can act compatibly with other forms of power?

The road map commits to at least one gigawatt power station in addition to those under way at the moment, but as we have heard this afternoon, substantial delays in existing large nuclear plants are the order of the day. Hinkley is now 10 years delayed, Sizewell C does not yet have financial closure, and it does not look as though there will be any power from that until the early 2030s. The good news is that Sizewell B is likely to have a 20-year extension on its life. It is currently due to close in 2035, so that will be effectively the equivalent of a new large power station generating in the late 2030s onwards.

So far the Government have put £2.5 billion into Sizewell C and not one stone has yet been laid on another. I imagine there would be a need in principle for similar sums to be laid before future gigawatt nuclear power plants, if that is what the Government envisage for their 24-gigawatt strategy in the main. It is not indicated on the road map whether the Government are able or prepared to do that. Indeed, the money that has already been put into Sizewell was not planned.

On the other hand, while we are having a competition to determine what support, if any, should be given to the winner of the competition for SMR developments, an agreement in principle has been reached to build four SMRs on Teesside at no cost to the public purse, by the American company Westinghouse Electric Company, and Community Nuclear Power. It at least appears—competition or no competition—that there may be circumstances in which, at no cost to the public purse, nuclear power in the shape of SMRs can come forward. That is another reason why the competition needs to go ahead as quickly as possible, to get what we are doing in the UK as up to speed as possible with what people are doing elsewhere in the world.

What the agreement that has been reached in Teesside currently lacks is a clear route forward about sites. That is a proper subject for another delayed action, which, as mentioned in the road map, is the updating of strategic planning statements concerning nuclear. The last such statement, a revised EN-6, was published and adopted in 2011, and it identified, as the 2009 document had done, a number of specific sites for gigawatt power stations. However, it runs only until 2025. Indeed, a number of those sites were initially earmarked for nuclear plants, but the consortia advancing them withdrew.

We are now in a different age. The priority now is surely to identify sites, or at least to put in place clear conditions under which SMRs in particular might go ahead. I see from the road map that an intention for the development of an updated EN-7 appears to be that it will establish clear criteria for such sites. That is of course delayed, as with so many things related to nuclear planning and action. It is not with us at the moment, but it should be. I hope the Minister will give us a firm indication of when it will be published and adopted by this House.

An area where we have had delays and prevarication in the past is nuclear fuels. I am pleased to see in the road map a firm commitment to support the development of new forms of nuclear fuel and support for the production of existing fuel, such as high-assay low-enriched uranium, which at present is available only from Russian sources. Securing those fuel developments for Springfields nuclear fuels and establishing the funding that will make it work is an important piece of work under way early in the path of the road map, and I see the Minister has already laid a revised designation for Springfields in respect of enabling new uranium conversion facilities to be developed. All of that is a good piece of work by the Minister, and he should be applauded for it.

On the subject of delays, one of the most egregious is the absence of any progress on the identification and establishment of a nuclear repository. In the words of the road map:

“A process is well underway to identify a suitable site in which to develop a GDF”— a geological disposal facility—

“that has suitable geology and the support of a local community.”

Those words vary little in content from the original White Paper in 2008 that stated that such a process was to get under way.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Opposition Pairing Whip (Commons)

I have been to Finland and seen its waste repository. It is not rocket science—it is not that difficult. We have put this off for years and years. The argument always used against the industry is, “There is no answer to the waste.” Well, there is an answer, and it is straight- forward. We just need to make that decision.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

My right hon. Friend has more or less written the rest of my speech for me. He is right that it is not rocket science; it is nuclear science. And it is pretty straightforward, essentially.

By the way, the White Paper under the previous Labour Government said in 2008 that the process should get under way rapidly, with community consent, and that a geological disposal facility should follow shortly after. Nothing has happened since then, but it is vital, as we contemplate the kind of programme that we are envisaging for nuclear and the decommissioning of all but one of our current nuclear fleet, that a storage facility gets under way. We need rather more in the road map than the sparse words right now, or we at least need a renewed specific pathway for a disposal facility to be published. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether he is positively inclined towards that idea and whether he appreciates the urgency of making progress on a secure geological disposal facility.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) 3:43, 22 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker. I commend my hon. Friend Damian Collins on securing this important debate, and on the speed at which he was able to secure it, given that it was only a month and a half ago that I was standing at this Dispatch Box and publishing the nuclear road map. He is absolutely right to seize the opportunity presented in the civil nuclear road map, and I commend him for his consistent efforts on this agenda and for championing his constituency. I was grateful to visit Dungeness last year with my hon. Friend. I saw the strong local support for that site as a potential future location for a small modular reactor. I very much enjoyed my trip to the local pub and the fish and chips—should that be fission chips?—that we were served following our visit to the reactor.

The UK already delivers high-quality apprenticeships in the nuclear sector. We recognise the need to increase the number of apprentices to ensure that the nuclear sector can keep up with demand, without compromising the quality of training or career opportunities. The value of energy generation to communities around the country is an essential part of the discussion.

A month on from the publication of the civil nuclear road map, I am pleased to be discussing it here today. The Government are focused on creating a stable, secure and clean energy supply for the country. The publication of the road map sets out plans for the great nuclear revival of this country. As my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne, who has been a consistent champion of this, pointed out, nuclear plays a key role in our drive towards net zero. That has been recognised not only by this country but at COP by 30 other countries around the world, who came together to pledge to increase their nuclear generating capacity by 30% so that we can take concrete action on the biggest challenge of our time, which we all agree is climate change.

Nuclear power generation is a low-carbon, proven technology that will play an important role in making our energy system more resilient and less polluting. We have set out this expansion with quantifiable aims. We want to achieve up to 24 GW of nuclear power generation by 2050, which is four times what we currently produce. That ambition will require us to deploy a range of technologies from large-scale gigawatt reactors to small modular reactors and, coming down the stream, advanced modular reactors. On the first of those technologies, I am pleased to say that we are making incredibly good progress. Since the subject was last raised in the House on 11 January, the Government have made available a further £1.3 billion for the construction of Sizewell C. That brings the total Government investment available for the project to £2.5 billion.

Beyond Sizewell, we have committed to a pragmatic approach to nuclear deployment. As set out in the road map, that means committing to explore a further large-scale nuclear project beyond Sizewell. [Interruption.] I will not give way. I will address the comments made in the debate further on in my speech. I am conscious that we have another debate to get to, and I do not want to take up any more time for that debate; we are already eating into it.

On SMRs, we have set up Great British Nuclear, an arm’s length body responsible for helping to deliver new nuclear projects. In 2023, GBN launched a technology selection process for SMRs—it has been referenced—with the aim of identifying the technologies best able to reach a project final investment decision in the next Parliament, potentially releasing billions of pounds of private and public investment. In October, Great British Nuclear announced the designs of six technology vendors it had selected to proceed to the next stage of the process. I assure right hon. and hon. Members that the next stage of the competitive selection process will be launched shortly. The ambition is to announce this year which of the six companies the Government will support.

Importantly, whatever the technology, the nuclear programme requires new sites to enable construction within the decade. The Government’s plans, published last January, set out how we will achieve the expansion in the coming years. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkstone and Hythe will know from the road map that, in order to reach our destination of up to 24 GW by 2050, we have proposed a new approach to siting nuclear power stations, which will empower developers to identify sustainable sites.

The current national policy statement for siting nuclear power stations deployable before the end of 2025 lists potential locations for nuclear sites. Our new national policy statement for beyond 2025 aims to enable developers to identify sites that best match their technology. To open up more siting opportunities and facilitate longer-term market development, an updated, robust site assessment criteria will ensure that only those sites that are suitable for a new nuclear programme progress through the planning system.

While I am afraid that we cannot today speculate on the location of these new nuclear sites, we will pave the way for new nuclear sites in the UK to be made possible by this new nuclear siting national policy statement and civil nuclear road map. I suggest to my hon. Friend and any others who are rightly looking to the job creation and economic benefits of new nuclear sites that my Department shares their eagerness to confirm these projects, and we will share news of them as our consultation progresses.

I know that red tape and over-cautious regulation have slowed the progress of many construction projects in this country. However, I urge that cautious planning and adherence to correct procedure are a necessity when, after all, we are here discussing nuclear power. This is a slow process, because it is a diligent one, and it should be a diligent one. I will not make any promises today about the location of new nuclear sites, but my hon. Friend and others can be certain that community engagement will be central to the development of any new sites, and my Department is working to deliver that.

My hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford talked about new technologies. In January, I launched the alternative routes to market for new nuclear projects consultation, which aims to explore what steps can be taken to enable different routes to market for advanced nuclear technology and the uses and potential benefits they can provide to the UK economy when they do not need the support of the British taxpayer. The consultation will end on 12 April, and we are seeking responses to support the development of policies that will allow the nuclear industry to thrive. Expanding our nuclear power generation will benefit every community in the country with clean, reliable power, but it is the communities that host these new nuclear sites that will see that benefit most directly.

The skilled workforces that exist around our existing nuclear sites will, I expect, be an important consideration for those looking to develop new nuclear reactors. We expect that the nuclear sector workforce in the UK will need to double in the next few decades in response to the challenge. We recognise that we cannot close the skills gap without urgent collaborative action. We have worked with the Ministry of Defence and will soon launch the nuclear skills taskforce, of which I am incredibly proud. It will set out the action needed to ensure that the UK’s nuclear sector will have sufficient and appropriate nuclear skills to deliver our civil and military nuclear ambitions.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I will not, because I do not want to eat into the time for the next debate. The taskforce will set out our aims and ambition, and the work involves close co-ordination with industry, across civil and military, to turbocharge the work already happening to develop the skills we need. We look forward to seeing the taskforce’s final recommendations very soon.

Right hon. and hon. Members raised extensive points about the road map. I have been advised that we want to give time for the next debate, so I will not be able to address them all today. However, I promised Alan Brown that I would come back to his points on Hinkley Point C and Sizewell. Hinkley Point C is not a Government project. EDF Energy is responsible for its delivery. Additional costs will not fall to the taxpayer, despite what hon. Members might read in the press.

Sizewell C will be a crucial part of the UK’s agenda for new nuclear power. As I said, we have made available a total of £2.5 billion to support the project’s development. Last year, the Government and Sizewell C started the process to bring in private equity, backed by our new regulated asset base model for nuclear, in which we have considerable confidence. The hon. Member claimed that the RAB would not deliver. It was established as an option for funding new projects, following recommendations by the National Audit Office. The most appropriate funding models will be determined by negotiations with project developers on a project-by-project basis. As I said, we have full confidence in that.

I will write to the other Members who took part in this debate to address their points, because important points were raised, but I do not want to eat any more into the time for the next debate. We have published three key documents, which reinforce the UK’s position as a leader in the civil nuclear renaissance: a civil nuclear road map, a consultation on alternative routes to market, and a consultation on proposed policy for siting new nuclear power stations. The UK needs to increase the resilience of its energy supply while reducing its emissions. For that reason, nuclear power is a source of real optimism. The continued work of my Department and Great British Nuclear will ensure that the UK has a world-leading nuclear power industry. I am very glad to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe as we turn this plan into a reality.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) 3:52, 22 Chwefror 2024

I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said and, as he alluded to in his remarks, for visiting both Dungeness power station and the Pilot Inn at Dungeness. Both were welcome visits for the local community. I thank all the Members who spoke in this debate, in particular my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne, the Chair of the Select Committee.

The issues on which Liz Saville Roberts and I are in lockstep are probably not numerous, but this is one of them. As the Minister just said at the Dispatch Box and as is in the road map document, we recognise that to achieve the Government’s aims, we need more nuclear sites than are currently in the planning framework. Those nuclear sites will probably be other nuclear sites that already have the technology and the connections but, for whatever reason, were not suitable in the 2011 list but will be in future. Moving forward, if the Government say, “We know we need extra sites”, it will be helpful to give some idea of where they might be.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the civil nuclear roadmap.