Civil Nuclear Road Map

Part of Backbench Business – in the House of Commons am 3:32 pm ar 22 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.