U.K. Sets Out Nuclear Strategy to Tap $1.8 Trillion Market

The U.K. set out a nuclear strategy today as it attempts to tap a global market the government estimates will be worth almost 1.2 trillion pounds ($1.8 trillion) over the next two decades.

The strategy includes 45 million pounds in spending on atomic research and development, including a contribution to a French test facility, according to a statement today from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The government also said it’s keen to explore small modular reactors.

The U.K. is trying to kick-start its nuclear industry 18 years after the country’s last reactor was completed. With all but one of Britain’s plants due to shut by 2023, the government is in talks with Electricite de France SA to build a new reactor at Hinkley Point in southwest England, with discussions centering on the power price and the length of the contract.

“There are huge global opportunities that the U.K. is well-placed to take advantage of in the nuclear industry,” Business Secretary Vince Cable said in the statement. “Our strong research base will help develop exciting new technologies that can be commercialized here and then exported across the globe.”

The strategy is based on a report today from a board of scientists chaired by the government’s chief scientific adviser, John Beddington. The scientists recommended the government establish an R&D program to boost skills and spur new nuclear technologies for the domestic and export markets.

Cutting Carbon

The government has considered various energy mixes of renewables, carbon capture and storage, bioenergy and nuclear to achieve its goal to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. Beddington’s model assumed the most nuclear power -- a sevenfold increase to 75 gigawatts of capacity in 2050.

“We cannot see a sensible strategy which does not involve some degree of nuclear,” Beddington told reporters at a briefing in London today. Without the U.K. ramping up investment in atomic research, “I have concerns that there are issues around the nuclear program.”

Failure to build the planned 16 gigawatts of new reactors by 2025 will jeopardize legally binding emissions targets, Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Committee said March 4. The former government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, said last year that a better nuclear strategy is needed, or “the risk of the lights going off is very serious.”

Hinkley Point

The government is in talks with EDF, which a week ago won planning permission to build two reactors at Hinkley Point. The generator is seeking a guaranteed power price of 95 pounds to 99.50 pounds a megawatt-hour, about twice the current wholesale market rate. The government wants to keep costs down to minimize the impact on consumers.

Cable’s department today pledged 15 million pounds toward the creation of a National Nuclear Users Facility for universities and companies doing research on nuclear technology.

The department also said 35 R&D projects have won 18 million pounds of funding that’s expected to leverage a further 13 million pounds of private sector money. About 12.5 million pounds will be paid for the U.K. to join the Jules Horowitz Test Reactor that’s being built in France, giving the U.K. access to a radiation-testing facility.

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