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Support renewables and limit nuclear, says NIC

Hinkley Point C

The government should only build one more nuclear power station after Hinkley Point C, says the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

In its first National Infrastructure Assessment, the NIC cautioned against a rush to agree support for multiple new nuclear power stations and proposed the government should only support Hinkley Point C and one other nuclear power station before 2025.

It said in the longer term, renewables and new technologies “may prove cheaper” than building more nuclear plants as the cost of the technologies was “far more likely to fall, and at a faster rate”.

The assessment said the new approach would give flexibility to move towards newer low-carbon energy sources in future, while at the same time maintaining the UK’s nuclear supply chain and skills base.

The recommendations will be a blow to the nuclear industry. A new £200M nuclear sector deal outlining industry-led proposals to guide the future of the UK nuclear power industry was announced at the end of last month.

But it is unclear whether the new recommendations will influence the implementation of the deal, which includes proposals to reduce the cost of new build nuclear power stations by 30% by 2030, and maximise opportunities for the supply chain.

Instead, the NIC said Britain has a “golden opportunity” to switch to low carbon and renewable sources without increasing bills. But it said that ministers must act now to make the most of the opportunities.

It said the government should push to increase the amount of energy from renewable sources from its current 30% to 50% by 2030 by investing in  solar and wind technologies and enabling a rapid switch to electric vehicles.

NIC chairman Sir John Armitt said: “Whether it’s electric or driverless cars, new energy sources, tackling the risk of climate change or preparing for the newest and fastest broadband speeds, the issues we’ve been considering profoundly affect people’s everyday lives.

“The whole purpose of the UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment is to think beyond the technologies of today and to ensure we can make the most of future innovations. It’s why it’s not just a one-off but something we will be repeating every five years to ensure we remain on the front foot.

“This is not some unaffordable wish-list of projects: it sets a clear direction for how to meet the country’s future infrastructure needs, and makes a realistic assessment of what can and should be delivered within the stated aim of Ministers for steady and continued investment over the coming years,” said Armitt.

“I therefore look forward to the government’s response to our report, and seeing how our recommendations can become reality.”

Alongside Hinkley Point C, which was given the go-ahead in September 2016, several other nuclear power stations are vying for the government’s attention.

Last month the government said it was looking to take a £5bn stake in the Wylfa project in Anglesey and confirmed it would start “commercial negotiations” with Hitachi. Developers Horizon Nuclear Power are also considering a site at Oldbury, Gloucestershire, possibly in the late 2020s. Also last month CNG, the Chinese backers of the Bradwell B nuclear plant in Essex, said government funds would not be used for its construction.

Plans to build Sizewell C in Suffolk also look uncertain.  Operator EDF says it needs assurances from government that a “viable funding model exists” for the plant this year. Plans for a new nuclear power plant at Moorside in Cumbria by NuGen are currently under review.

Responding to the report, Hinkley Point C investor, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) UK chief executive Zheng Dongshan said: “We have read the conclusions of the report from the National Infrastructure Commission with interest.  It sets out a vision of the future which is not shared by most of those involved in energy policy every day.  The overwhelming consensus is that the UK needs a balance of energy technologies, including nuclear power, to deliver a resilient, low carbon, system that is flexible enough to deal with all future scenarios.”

The new assessment is a key part of the NICs work to provide the government with independent advice about how to meet the country’s long-term infrastructure needs.

The assessment spans a range of sectors including transport, digital technology, waste, flood management, water supplies – and the energy network. It also provides recommendations for delivering improvements to the country’s infrastructure network up to 2050.

In April this year the NIC released its report into England’s water infrastructure needs warning that large parts of the UK could have their water supply cut off if a drought hits.

Other recommendations include:

Digital technology

The government must devise a national broadband plan by Spring 2019, to deliver full fibre optic connections across the whole of the country, including those in rural areas – this should ensure that the technology is available to 15M homes and businesses by 2025, 25M homes by 2030, and all homes and businesses by 2033

Roads

The government must work with local authorities and private companies to deliver a national network of charging points for electric vehicles and ensure that the impact of connected and autonomous vehicles is taken into account when planning for the next road and rail investment programmes

Encouraging growth of cities

Metro mayors and city leaders must develop and implement long term strategies for transport, employment and housing, to support economic growth, with new powers and devolved infrastructure budgets. The National Infrastructure Assessment’s spending proposals include Crossrail 2 in London, and Northern Powerhouse Rail linking the major Northern cities. It also calls for a funding boost for major cities totalling £43bn to 2040, with cities given stable five-year budgets, starting in 2021

Tackling floods

Government should put in place a long-term strategy to deliver a nationwide flood resilience standard by 2050 with funding for flood risk management increasing significantly over the coming decades.

Cutting waste

New national rules for what can and cannot be recycled must be introduced, with restrictions on the use of hardest to recycle plastics. The aim should be to increase rates and reduce the amount of plastics going to incinerators. This would also mean that all food waste is separated making it available to create biogas, so it can be used to heat homes and produce transport fuel.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • It is barking mad to put such emphasis on the unreliable forms of energy. Sun and wind are appropriate more for the tropics than the temperate zone such as ours. We will still need 100% reliable energy production during a blocking high settle in, as last winter demonstrated. More recent per-reviewed and published scientific papers are increasingly questioning the global warming thesis, pointing to in some cases falling temperatures over the decades ahead.

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  • This is a groundbreaking report and represents and epithany for John Armitt. With uk electricity consumption falling (9% since 2013) and our offshore wind set to increase capacity from 5.7GW now to 10GW by 2020 with the next generation of wind delivering energy at a prices well below the current strike price for nuclear we should only be surprised it has taken so long for the ‘penny to drop’.
    What will be interesting to watch is the government response and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Is it possible they too could begin to ‘back pedal’?

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