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UK must seize chance for world-leading £100bn nuclear industry

The UK needs a nuclear advisory board and the right investment decisions to take advantage of a potential world-leading £100bn nuclear industry, according to the former government chief scientific advisor.

A new report, Towards a low carbon pathway for the UK, has been released by the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment which calls for a new nuclear strategy.

Sir David King said: “The recent announcements on the Franco-British Accord and the desire to create a long-term strategy for nuclear up to and beyond 2050 are welcome, but we need to address the fundamental issue that energy provision is generally a 100 year programme and requires not just a long-term view, but skills and the science base to support it.”

The report by the school, where Sir David is a director, states that the current structure of the UK’s nuclear industry is still more aligned towards the ‘no nuclear’ stance of 2003 than the move towards new build today.

Sir David told CN after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 that the UK’s nuclear ‘realism’ would save UK new build projects like EDF Energy’s proposed Hinkley Point C plant and that the nuclear incentives for government were massive.

Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently announced agreements towards cooperation on new nuclear plants.

However there are still fears over investment in UK new build, with developers EDF Energy, Horizon and Nugen yet to announce investment decisions, although deals have been signed at Hinkley Point C where Kier/Bam Nuttall has won preliminary works.

The report states that there has never been a better time to ensure a coordinated approach to new nuclear policy and says private investment as an owner/operator of  a new MOX plant should be encouraged to offset high capital costs.

It adds that present proposals for new nuclear stations in the UK will only replace existing fleet, resulting in its effect on reducing carbon ‘standing still’.

Towards a low carbon pathway for the UK

There must be some form of independent body with the mission to evaluate and impartially advise on long term nuclear strategy, R&D and structural options for the industry. What it is can be debated elsewhere, that it is required seems to be self-evident.

Unless we are careful with our investments today in developing a balanced portfolio of low carbon energy sources, we could be left with high carbon generating power stations which will not be fit for purpose in the coming decades

Substantial additional decarbonisation will require a new set of policies and actions, in nuclear and in other low carbon energy markets. In particular, if there is a successful global decarbonisation, development will be needed on new reactor systems and fuel cycles, especially in the light of competing demands on uranium resources or if economically retrievable uranium becomes more scarce.

The perceived fractured policy landscape of the nuclear energy sector is seen to hold back realising the maximum economic and high value skills opportunities which are required to reach the government’s objective of safe and secure energy, free of carbon by 2050.

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