UK plots return to global fuel leadership

The UK government is set to boost the country’s nuclear capabilities as it seeks to reduce dependence on imported energy.

The government has announced nuclear fuel production capabilities in the UK is set to be bolstered by up to £75 million in additional funding in a bid to support development of alternatives to Russian fuel supply and strengthen UK energy security, energy and climate minister Graham Stuart revealed.

The move is designed to encourage investment in new and robust fuel production capabilities in the UK, backing the government’s ambition to secure up to 24GW of nuclear power by 2050.

The announcement comes just over a month after the country announced the further revitalisation of the UK nuclear industry, by confirming the first state backing of a nuclear project in over 30 years, with a £700 million stake in Sizewell C in Suffolk. The power station will produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 6 million homes for over 50 years. The nuclear acceleration requires pushing ahead to deliver new reactors, including advanced modular reactors, which will need new fuel streams.

“Record high global gas prices, caused by Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, have highlighted the need for more home-grown renewable energy, but also UK generated nuclear power – building more plants, and developing domestic fuel capability,” Stuart explained. “This investment package will strengthen the UK’s energy security, by ensuring access to a safe and secure supply of UK produced fuel to power the UK nuclear fleet of today and tomorrow – squeezing out Russian influence, while creating more UK jobs and export opportunities.”

G7 leaders agreed last June to begin concerted action to reduce reliance on civil nuclear and related goods from Russia, including working to diversify their supplies of uranium and nuclear fuel production capability. Russia currently owns around 20% of global uranium conversion capacity and 40% of enrichment capacity.

The UK’s plans includes the development of new conversion capacity in the UK for both freshly mined and reprocessed uranium.

“These will help power existing as well as future advanced nuclear reactors – and support international diversification from Russian fuel supply,” Stuart added.

“Uranium conversion is an important stage in the nuclear fuel cycle,” a government statements announcing the move added. “The funding will create expert nuclear fuel capability to convert recycled uranium in the UK that is not currently available outside Russia. As well as bolstering UK energy security, ministers hope it will also deliver export opportunities for the sector and position the UK as a key international supplier of nuclear fuel and fuel cycle services.”

Chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, Tom Greatrex, said: “Having the sovereign capability to manufacture next generation nuclear fuels for advanced reactors of the future is vital for energy security and net zero.

“It will also open up export opportunities for the UK, helping us reclaim our place as world leaders in the fuels sector.”