Britain aims for faster investment decisions on new nuclear projects

By Nina Chestney

LONDON (Reuters) – The British government aims to speed up action on new nuclear projects by introducing a time frame requiring an investment decision every five years from 2030 to 2044 and will also explore the potential of a new large-scale nuclear plant, it said on Thursday.

Britain aims to have up to 24 GW of nuclear capacity by mid-century, up from 6 GW today, which could meet around a quarter of the country’s forecast electricity demand.

To help achieve this, the government wants to secure investment decisions to deliver 3-7 GW of new nuclear power every five years from 2030-2044 and develop new regulation to speed up the deployment of new plants.

The share of nuclear energy in Britain’s electricity generation has fallen to around 15% from 27% in the 1990s as older plants have been decommissioned and plants are taking time to build.

Much of the UK nuclear fleet is nearing the end of its scheduled lifespan even though EDF Energy said this week it aims to extend the lives of its reactors.

EDF Energy’s new 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C plant in south-west England is not expected to come online until at least 2027. Another 3.2 GW planned plant – Sizewell C in south-east England – has not yet had a final investment decision (FID).

The government and developer EDF Energy started a process last year to bring private equity investment into the project but EDF said a sustainable commercial model is needed for FID.

Nevertheless, the government said it would be “challenging” to meet its nuclear goals without at least the option of further large-scale projects.

“We are committed to exploring a further large-scale reactor project beyond Sizewell C. We will set out timelines and process by the end of this Parliament, subject to a Sizewell C FID,” the department for energy security and net zero said in its civil nuclear roadmap.

Small-modular nuclear reactors, which can be made in factories with lower costs and faster construction will also help in meeting the 24 GW goal. The government launched a competition last year to develop them by the 2030s.

Some environmental groups were critical of the goverment’s plans to expand nuclear power, which is seen as a way to cut fossil fuel emissions.

“Every few months the government makes a grandiose public announcement about future nuclear in the hope that a major investor will believe the hype and step up to fund this 20th century technology,” said Doug Parr, Chief Scientist for Greenpeace UK.

The government also said it wants to remove any remaining Russian fuel and uranium supply to Britain by 2030 and build a disposal facility which will accommodate nuclear waste of up to 24 GW in capacity.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney. Editing by Jane Merriman)