As “Oppenheimer” unravels the legacy of nuclear warfare, the UK takes bold steps towards a decarbonised future with an innovative focus on nuclear energy.

 

Introduction

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s film “Oppenheimer”, the focus is on J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist known as the “father of the atomic bomb.” The film showcases his role in the Manhattan Project during WWII, revealing nuclear weapons’ origins and global impact.

The nuclear renaissance aligns with Great British Nuclear’s (GBN) launch, echoing Oppenheimer’s portrayal in Nolan’s film—a reminder of nuclear technology’s global significance. GBN’s pursuit of small modular reactor (SMR) projects complements Oppenheimer’s legacy, offering a promising future for nuclear energy in the UK. With a multi-billion-pound investment, the country accelerates its nuclear program, aiming for a sustainable, decarbonised energy future.

 

What is Great British Nuclear?

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) recently heralded the official launch of Great British Nuclear, a pivotal arms-length body dedicated to propelling nuclear projects across the nation. In line with the 2023 Spring Budget’s commitment, GBN takes centre stage in the UK’s ambition to accelerate the deployment of nuclear technology, emphasising its significance in realising the government’s new nuclear program.

GBN’s launch initiates an exciting phase, featuring a competition for up to £20 billion in funding for SMR nuclear projects. Emphasizing SMRs marks a transformative approach, with faster construction and lower capital expenditures compared to conventional nuclear projects. Billions of pounds of investment potential from public and private sectors highlight SMRs’ strategic importance in shaping the UK’s nuclear energy future.

 

Scope of GBN in Nuclear Energy

Great British Nuclear (GBN) will rapidly expand nuclear power through a government-led competition focused on small modular reactor (SMR) technology. This initiative could attract significant investment from both public and private sectors, enhancing energy security, affordability, and economic growth. Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps announces GBN’s pivotal role in expanding new nuclear power plants to reduce reliance on unpredictable fossil fuel imports and boost the UK economy by approximately £6 billion.

Companies can now express their interest in participating in the GBN competition, with the opportunity to secure funding for the development of SMR products. Unlike conventional reactors, SMRs are smaller, factory-made, and promise faster and more cost-effective construction of power stations.

This initiative aligns with the government’s target of generating up to a quarter of the UK’s electricity from domestically produced nuclear energy by 2050 and achieving competitive wholesale electricity prices in Europe while creating employment opportunities throughout the country.

In addition to supporting SMRs, the government remains dedicated to major projects such as Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C. Moreover, a grant funding package of up to £157 million has been allocated to accelerate nuclear business development and the design of advanced modular reactors and fuel.

This exciting journey into the nuclear power renaissance holds the potential to significantly boost Britain’s energy capacity and fuel economic growth for decades to come. With GBN’s leadership and the support of cutting-edge technologies, the UK is well-poised to assume a leading role in the global nuclear industry.

Companies can now express their interest in participating in the GBN competition, with the opportunity to secure funding for the development of SMR products. Unlike conventional reactors, SMRs are smaller, factory-made, and promise faster and more cost-effective construction of power stations.

 

Nuclear Energy Policy Considerations

The existing EN-6 governs nuclear policy for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) deployable by 2025. The proposed new EN-1 will govern post-2025 nuclear applications, including large-scale nuclear, SMRs, AMRs, and fusion power plants.

Richard Griffiths of Pinsent Masons said: “We are waiting for the revised nuclear NPS, which will provide specific policy considerations for the next generation of nuclear power post-2025. Despite this, the revised EN-1 explicitly states its reliance for new nuclear projects, establishing the ‘urgent need’ for such technology in planning terms. This provides confidence as developers explore opportunities.”

The government also published new papers on powering up Britain with positive news for future nuclear generation. Michael Freeman of Pinsent Masons said: “There has been demonstrable commitment from the UK government today to ensuring that the UK’s nuclear sector has a pivotal role to play in ensuring the UK’s energy security, and a welcome clarification on how it intends to realise its aspiration of 24GW nuclear capacity by 2050.”

According to Freeman, there was particularly positive news regarding the structure of Great British Nuclear (GBN). UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently announced its establishment to bring down costs and support up to one-quarter of Britain’s electricity by 2050.

Freeman said: “GBN will drive new nuclear projects in the UK, operating through British Nuclear Fuels Limited. The first funding competition for SMRs will kick off in April, with selection of the best technologies for development expected in the summer.”

“News of this competition is welcome, but further clarification on its scope is needed. The government should expand on its proposals quickly. GBN’s precise role in funding and strategic decisions for UK SMRs needs clarity to ensure a clear route to market for developers,” he said.

 

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