It was a huge pleasure to open Marketforce’s Nuclear New Build Forum earlier this week, and to talk to industry experts about the challenges – and opportunities – ahead of us in the nuclear sector.
And to be absolutely clear, new nuclear has a vital role to play in tackling not only decades of chronic underinvestment in the industry, but also in dealing with our energy trilemma of keeping the lights on, keeping the bills down and all whilst addressing our world leading decarbonisation targets.
As we transition to a low-carbon economy, we must completely decarbonise the power sector and we need new nuclear to do that. Why? Because nuclear is the only proven technology that can be deployed on a sufficiently large scale to provide continuous low-carbon power.
Existing nuclear plants currently meet around 16 per cent of our electricity needs. Without nuclear new build, the share of generation from nuclear could dip to 3 per cent in 2030. This would reduce the diversity of our energy supplies and would almost certainly make achieving our goals to cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions far more challenging and more expensive.
Hinkley C is only the first in a series of proposed new nuclear projects in the pipeline. It will blaze a trail for further nuclear development. Industry has set out proposals to develop 18 gigawatts of new nuclear power in the UK at six sites – Hinkley Point, Sizewell, Bradwell, Moorside, Wylfa and Oldbury. This pipeline could deliver around a third of the electricity we will need in the 2030s; reduce our carbon emissions by more than 40 million tonnes; bring an estimated £80 billion of investment into the UK and employ up to 30,000 people across the new nuclear supply chain at the peak of construction.
The scale of the industry’s new build aspirations, the length of time since the last new build project and the high average age of the existing nuclear workforce mean that it is essential to take action now to prevent skills gaps appearing during the course of the new nuclear programme. 70 per cent of highly skilled workers in the nuclear sector are due to retire by 2025.
The most recent Nuclear Workforce Assessment suggests the total current demand for skilled nuclear workers is about 78,000. This is expected to rise to 111,000 as both the civil and defence new build programmes gather pace.
And let’s not forget that Britain is a world leader in civil nuclear, through our skills-base, infrastructure and regulatory regime. Making nuclear projects happen can keep Britain at the forefront of nuclear development – generating skilled employment, building our supply chain and creating global export opportunities.
Read my full speech on my vision for a new fleet of nuclear power stations – including Hinkley Point C, Wylfa in Anglesey, Moorside in Cumbria and others besides, as well as the opportunities presented by small modular reactors and wider nuclear research and development – on the gov.uk website.