Dawning of Britain’s ‘new nuclear age’: Gas crisis prompts ministers to ‘change focus’ with Kwasi Kwarteng poised to approve 16 mini-reactors in bid to hit 2050 net zero target
- Ministers understood to have adopted ‘change of focus’ towards nuclear power
- Rolls-Royce believes plans to install at least 16 plants could create 40,000 jobs
- Consortium has secured £210million to get matching funding from the taxpayer
A planned new generation of mini nuclear reactors could protect Britain from future energy crises.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is poised to approve funding for British engineering giant Rolls-Royce to create a fleet of mini-reactors.
Ministers are understood to have adopted a ‘change of focus’ towards nuclear power amid the current crisis caused by rocketing global wholesale gas prices.
Rolls-Royce believes its plans to install at least 16 plants could create 40,000 jobs by 2050 in the Midlands, the north of England and other parts of the country.
According to the Sunday Times, a consortium led by the engineering firm has secured the necessary £210million to get matching funding from the taxpayer.
It comes amid news that Chinese investment in Britain’s next generation of nuclear power stations is set to be banned on security grounds.
Ministers are set to formally bar any further involvement by China’s General Nuclear Power Group in the £20billion Sizewell C nuclear power project.
A planned new generation of mini nuclear reactors could protect Britain from future energy crises. Above: Engineering giant Rolls-Royce is set to create a fleet of mini-reactors like the depicted one above
The UK’s seven nuclear plants provide about 17 per cent of its electricity needs, but that is due to nearly halve by 2024 as ageing plants are decommissioned
The Treasury, which was previously seen as the obstacle to new nuclear projects because of their rising cost, has reportedly also concluded that more nuclear power is needed.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is said to have made clear in a meeting on Friday that he thought nuclear should play a more prominent role in future energy policy.
A source close to Mr Sunak said his general view was that Britain should have had a weightier focus on nuclear ‘ten years ago, when it was cheaper’ but added that the country ‘can’t rely’ on wind and solar power.
Mini reactors, known as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), generate around 450 megawatts of power – around a seventh of what a conventional power station such as Hinkley Point produces.
State support for them was revealed in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ten-point green industrial revolution plan that was released last November.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is poised to approve £200million in funding for the project
Recent data from the National Grid shows how dependent Britain remains on gas.
The country’s electricity comes from sources which, other than gas and nuclear, include wind, hydro, biomass, imports and solar.
However, amounts vary considerably depending on the season, the weather and time of day.
Figures for last Friday show that at noon, the sun supplied 15.3 per cent of the UK’s overall energy.
Wind was the biggest power source that day, responsible for almost 40 per cent of the energy mix at midday.
Nuclear energy offers consistent levels of power around the clock – providing more than a fifth of our energy in the early hours of Friday.
Biomass fuel, made by burning wood and other organic matter, is the UK’s second-largest source of renewable electricity.
And whereas Britain once relied on coal, that accounted for just 0.6 per cent of supply between April and June – and none on Friday.
Recent data from the National Grid shows how dependent Britain remains on gas. Above: Figures for last Friday show the country’s reliance on gas
Imported energy hit 9 per cent of the total on Friday night, but hydropower production was minimal.
The Government’s renewed focus on nuclear comes as ministers seek a way of blocking China from the Sizewell project.
However, CGN has a 20 per cent stake in the development of the project and an option to remain once it is built.
Treasury officials have looked at several options to replace China’s financial backing of the project.
The favoured option is said to be a regulated asset base (RAB) model.
It has been used in other big infrastructure projects such as the Thames Tideway and requires legislation.
A Government spokeswoman told the Mail on Sunday: ‘CGN is currently a shareholder in Sizewell C up until the point of the Government’s final investment decision. Negotiations are ongoing and no final decision has been taken.’
Last week, it emerged that Mr Kwarteng is backing plans to build another major nuclear power plant in Wales to ease pressure on electricity supplies.
The Business Secretary is believed to be lining up behind an attempt to revive proposals for a site at Wylfa on Anglesey.
The project could happen alongside a second nuclear plant at Hinkley Point , Somerset, which is already under construction, and the Sizewell venture.
A previous attempt to build a nuclear power station at Wylfa collapsed a year ago after Japanese firm Hitachi pulled out.
But according to The Times the government is now in discussions with US manufacturer Westinghouse.
In May, pictures emerged of the moment that the world’s largest crane lifted a massive steel ring into place at the Hinkley Point C site in Somerset.
It was the second of three prefabricated steel rings to form the reinforced cylinder around the new nuclear reactor at the new £23billion power station.
Britain’s first nuclear power station, Calder Hall, in Cumbria, opened in 1956 – two years after the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKEA) was established.
It was the world’s first nuclear power station to deliver electricity in commercial quantities.
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