Civil Nuclear Road Map

Part of Backbench Business – in the House of Commons am 3:43 pm ar 22 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.