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Nuclear Industrial Strategy outlines Government commitment to growing nuclear energy provision, says expert

Half of the UK's energy supply in 2050 could be sourced from nuclear power if through an expansion of the infrastructure that exists in the industry, the Government has said.27 Mar 2013

It has published a new Nuclear Industrial Strategy (91-page / 1.71MB PDF) in which it has outlined plans to encourage nuclear operators to develop new build programmes. It said nuclear energy is at the heart of its plans to reduce carbon emissions in the UK.

"Nuclear energy is clean, secure and reliable," the Strategy said. "The Government is clear on the important role nuclear has to play in the energy mix and is working to ensure that the market can and will bring new nuclear power forward. The Government’s Carbon Plan to reduce UK CO2 emissions to 2050 aims for there to be competition between different forms of low carbon electricity generation."

"Although there are no set targets, within 3 of the 4 key scenarios in the Government’s Carbon Plan nuclear energy is shown to deliver a much larger amount of generation than that available now, with the potential to deliver between 16 GW and 75 GW of the UK’s electricity needs. The 75 GW from nuclear energy is part of a scenario where total installed capacity in the UK is around 160 GW by 2050. Nuclear could contribute roughly 40-50% to the energy mix under this scenario, compared with nearly 20% today," it said.

"The size of the UK’s nuclear new build programme will therefore largely depend on industry’s ambition, the success of the initial new build programme, subsequent reduction in cost through experience, growth in investor confidence, and realising economies of scale," the Strategy said.

Energy law specialist Chris White of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said that the Nuclear Industrial Strategy "provides welcome leadership from a political and policy perspective".

"The Government has placed nuclear at the heart of its national economic strategy for growth, by confirming plans to align the UK as a leading civil nuclear energy nation," White said. "The new national Nuclear Industrial Strategy is markedly holistic in its approach, covering the front-end and back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle and everything in between: encompassing new build, waste management and decommissioning, fuel cycle services, and operations and maintenance."

"The strategy recognises that the importance of the investment climate with inward investment providing vital support for nuclear projects investment cases. The document also sets out ways for the UK to support UK-based firms overseas as they seek to export ‘badge of origin’ UK civil nuclear skills and services, to penetrate key overseas markets and territories," he added.

The Strategy also outlined Government plans to boost skills and training in the industry and to re-establish the UK as a centre for nuclear research & development.

Innovation and R&D are central to nuclear achieving a growing contribution to the UK’s energy mix, which could be between 16 and 75 GW up to 2050 as well as ensuring commercial opportunities can be realised in global markets," the Nuclear Industrial Strategy said. "At the same time as progressing new nuclear build, the UK must continue operating its existing fleet, decommissioning its existing facilities and currently generating reactors as they come off line."

"Innovation and R&D in the supply chain is crucial for UK companies to increase competitiveness and secure contracts, as well as maintaining the highest standards of safety and driving down costs. Government will continue to support this through a variety of initiatives and partnership with industry," it said.

White said that the Strategy had also outlined that the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) would have a revised role in future.

"The role of the NNL will change to enable it to take on a more central role in advising the Government on nuclear matters and make sure that research projects are of strategic benefit to the UK and capable of commercial application in the UK and across the global industry," he said. "As part of the new strategy the NNL will adopt a more commercial incubator focus as well as being responsible for hosting the Nuclear Innovation Research Office (NIRO) which will support the work of the newly-established Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board (NIRAB), which will act as a pathfinder in establishing parameters defining a coherent and joined-up national nuclear energy R&D program."

Environmental expert Helen Peters of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said that the Nuclear Industrial Strategy had also specified the Government's plans with regards to nuclear waste.

"As expected the Government has reaffirmed its commitment to geological disposal for higher activity radioactive waste and its preferred approach for volunteerism," she said. "However, after the 'no' vote from Cumbria earlier this year, the Government has acknowledged that it is considering possible improvements to the site selection process. Further announcements on this are to be expected later this year."

In a separate announcement, the Government also published a new strategy to boost the supply of low carbon heat (122-page / 5.64MB PDF).

“Many homes and businesses across the UK have already switched away from fossil fuels and are using kit like biomass boilers, heat pumps and solar thermal panels to provide heat, thanks to Government support, and I want to ensure even more householders and organisations get on board," Energy Secretary Ed Davey said in a statement.