UK nuclear task force proposed to speed up power plant construction

UK ministers are looking to replicate the country’s successful Covid-19 vaccine task force to deliver new nuclear power plants at “warp speed” after Boris Johnson said he wanted nuclear power to supply at least a quarter of Britain’s electricity generation by 2050.

The British Prime Minister told industry leaders on Monday that he was “insanely frustrated” at the slow pace at which Britain’s nuclear sector was developing, according to people at the Downing Street meeting.

As part of the plan, company secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is pushing for the creation of a new supply organization to end more than a decade of stalled efforts to build a fleet of nuclear power plants. Downing Street and the Treasury have yet to formally approve the proposal, according to people familiar with the situation.

Johnson is expected to set new nuclear capability targets in the upcoming energy supply strategy aimed at removing the need for Russian oil and gas imports and reducing the country’s exposure to highly volatile commodity markets.

Johnson hopes to publish the strategy next week, but Rishi Sunak is holding back because the chancellor wanted more time to look at the cost implications. Government insiders said Johnson discussed his nuclear target for 2050 in a private meeting with Sunak earlier on Monday. “He didn’t disagree,” one person said of the talks.

The prime minister told energy companies and investors on Monday that he wanted “warp speed” progress to accelerate the construction program for new factories, another person said. Nuclear power production capacity in the UK will be halved by more than half to 4.45 gigawatts over the course of the decade as most of the older generation reactors are decommissioned.

Nuclear currently accounts for about 16 percent of the country’s electricity mix. Johnson’s target of at least 25 percent by 2050 would imply a significant expansion of nuclear generation capacity, with electricity demand expected to double by mid-century as part of the UK’s net zero carbon target, which aims to boost the fossil fuel economy. to wean fuels.

So far, one new nuclear power plant – the 3.2GW Hinkley Point C in Somerset – is under construction, although the Labor government drew up plans in 2006 for a new generation of reactors. Successive governments have since struggled to convince the private sector to bear the cost of building new factories, which are often dogged by delays and cost overruns.

Industry executives have long blamed slow progress in the nuclear field on a “stalemate” between the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy & Industry Strategy over the costs involved – Hinkley Point C is expected to cost more than £20 billion.

“There was a recognition from the government and from the industry [in today’s meeting] that the way they’ve done it so far won’t be enough [capacity]soon enough,” said one person who attended the meeting.

A new agency was needed to “take responsibility for the process” of developing new factories, said another person who attended the meeting.

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Business leaders hope that an organization similar to the vaccine task force can accelerate the construction of new reactors. The proposed supply agency would also control any interests the government takes in new nuclear power plants.

The government has already allocated funding for the UK’s next proposed nuclear power plant – Sizewell C in Suffolk – after years of delays in trying to get it funded.

Industry leaders have told the government that around 16 GW of nuclear capacity would be needed by 2035 to meet the UK’s phased CO2 reduction target, requiring a 78 percent reduction in emissions in compared to 1990 levels. It would take between 45 and 50 GW to meet Britain’s “net zero” emissions target for 2050, another director said.

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