Europe warned on energy security as UK looks to small nuclear future

The United Kingdom has announced it is to forge a new nuclear powered energy future as it warned the war in Ukraine continues to destabilise the world’s energy security.

UK energy secretary Grant Shapps has announced that the country is to launch a competition to drive the rapid expansion of new nuclear power plants in the UK at “an unprecedented scale and pace”.

He said the competition will boost UK energy security, reduce dependence on volatile fossil fuel imports, create more affordable power and grow the economy, with the nuclear industry estimated to generate around £6 billion for the UK economy.

The aim is to encourage billions of pounds of public and private sector investment in small modular reactor (SMR) projects in the UK. Unlike conventional reactors that are built on site, SMRs are smaller, can be made in factories and could transform how power stations are built by making construction faster, and less expensive.

Great British Nuclear (GBN) has been launched to lead the drive and will be key in helping the UK government hit its ambition to provide up to a quarter of the UK’s electricity from homegrown nuclear energy by 2050 and achieve among the cheapest wholesale electricity prices in Europe, whilst supporting jobs across the country.

The UK added it remains committed to the mega projects of Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C and will work with GBN to consider the potential role of further large gigawatt-scale nuclear power plants in the UK energy mix.

Shapps explained: “Britain has a rich history as a pioneer of nuclear power, having launched the era of civil nuclear power – and I’m proud to be turbocharging its revival and placing our country once again at the forefront of global innovation.

“By rapidly boosting our homegrown supply of nuclear and other clean, reliable, and abundant energy, we will drive down bills for British homes and make sure the UK is never held to energy ransom by tyrants like Putin.

“Today, as we open Great British Nuclear and the competition to develop cutting-edge small modular reactor technology, which could result in billions of pounds of public and private sector investment, we are seeing the first brush strokes of our nuclear power renaissance to power up Britain and grow our economy for decades to come.”

Minister for Nuclear Andrew Bowie added: “As long-standing pioneers of nuclear, we’re marking its UK revival with the opening of Great British Nuclear, which will play an essential role in transforming the way we power Britain from Britain.”

Julia Pyke, joint managing director for Sizewell C said the use of nuclear power will have immediate benefits.

“If Hinkley had been on last year, UK consumers would have saved over £4 billion. Both projects will form a vital part of the future nuclear fleet, helping to lower carbon emissions and reduce energy costs for British households,” she explained.

Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said the announcement comes as the world continues to face huge challenges over its energy security.

“Britain has an important leadership role in the global nuclear industry, and nowhere more so than in our determination to drive Russia out of the nuclear fuel markets,” he added. “The government’s Nuclear Fuel Fund will bolster those world-class capabilities that make us uniquely placed to help our allies replace Russian supplies with Western nuclear fuel.”

The announcement came as Justin Addison a member of the UK Delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), told its meeting in Vienna that Europe had to end its dependence on Russian gas.

“The theme of today’s meeting is energy networks’ protection from natural and man-made disasters,” he said. “Russia’s brutal and illegal full-scale invasion of Ukraine has caused disaster and devastation across our region, with significant impacts on energy security.

“Ukrainian thermal and renewable power stations have suffered massive damage as a result of Russia’s war of aggression. Ukraine is now getting the equipment and financing needed to make the repairs for the next winter. The UK Government is making efforts to mobilise the UK power equipment industry to help.”

Addison continued: “Ukraine has learned the hard way about the urgent need for a more decentralised electricity grid, with an emphasis on small modular reactors and renewables. Ukraine’s existing grid is highly centralised, making it vulnerable to the Russian attempts last winter to bring about total grid collapse by targeting long-distance, high voltage transmission lines and key nodal substations in a ruthlessly systematic manner. Russia then turned its attention to power generation, attacking every type of generation, except nuclear. Of course, Europe’s biggest nuclear power station is under utterly reckless Russian military occupation. This is a lesson to be learned for all countries in the region with similar systems.”

However, he cautioned the conflicted had highlighted the threat to European energy security.

“Putin’s invasion exposed mainland Europe’s over-dependence on Russian gas, with implications for affordability and security. The long-term solution is to address our underlying vulnerability to international fossil fuel prices by reducing our dependence on imported oil and gas.

“That is why the UK has worked with international partners to ban imports of Russian coal, oil, and liquefied natural gas. Reducing exposure to volatile oil and gas prices and Russian energy market manipulation depends on a faster transition to renewables and nuclear.”