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Nuclear Power Stations

Volume 802: debated on Monday 24 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which United Kingdom nuclear power stations will be providing power to the National Grid in (1) 2030, (2) 2032, and (3) 2035.

My Lords, based on current plans, in 2030 there will be four nuclear power stations providing power to the UK electricity system. Two of these stations are scheduled to close in 2030. In 2032 and in 2035 there will be two stations providing power to the UK electricity system. However, some developers have plans for new power stations.

I thank the Minister for her Answer but the Government appear somewhat complacent about tackling what will be a crisis for our future energy supply, particularly the supply of electricity as demand for that rises. There is no doubt that the current civil nuclear programme is in complete disarray. We know that, alongside renewables, new nuclear power stations are necessary if we are to decarbonise our economy. I understand that the real problem is funding of nuclear power. Is the regulated asset-based model, used for example on the Tideway scheme, a possible way to fund new reactor projects? I believe we really must start funding nuclear power.

I take issue with the noble Lord’s assertion that we do not take nuclear power seriously. We launched the nuclear sector deal in 2018—the fifth in a series of deals as part of the industrial strategy—and through this deal the sector has been committed to deliver a 30% reduction in the cost of new-build projects by 2030. The Government are committed to looking at alternative funding models that could improve value for money and reduce the capital cost of new nuclear projects. He is right that we have consulted on a regulated-asset base. The consultation closed on 14 October 2019 and we are currently considering responses to inform the best approach to the financing of future nuclear projects, which include the regulated-asset base and other models.

My Lords, I declare my registered interest and congratulate my noble friend on her new role. Does she agree that the aim of the present Government and their energy strategy is to move from 19% of electricity coming from nuclear power up to 30%? Does she also agree that the movement in that direction is extremely slow, with Wylfa suspended, Moorside cancelled, doubts about Sizewell C, the Chinese going ahead—we think—at Bradwell, and a question mark over Oldbury? The general level of progress looks thoroughly unsatisfactory. Can she ask her colleagues to ensure that a clear exposition of how this nuclear replacement fleet programme is going is presented to both Houses of Parliament very soon? From the outside, it does not look at all good.

I acknowledge my noble friend’s concerns in this sector. The energy White Paper will still be published at the end of this quarter and will address some of those concerns. We have also been investing in new technologies for small and advanced modular reactors, which have significant potential to support a secure, affordable and decarbonised energy system. Although Horizon has suspended plans for Wylfa in Ynys Mon, the consent order is still live until the end of March and we are working hard to develop models that could work for Sizewell C and Bradwell, which would be a different form of reactor altogether.

My Lords, what assessment has been made of the possibility of further extending the life of the advanced gas-cooled reactor fleet beyond 2030? There is the potential to further extend the life of the three newest stations, which would help provide much needed low-carbon electricity until new nuclear capacity can be brought online.

I assume by the question that the noble Lord means extension of those that currently have problems? They are obviously under investigation by the Office for Nuclear Regulation. Certainly, the ones at Hunterston in the north of Scotland are expected to be back online by the end of April.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s announcement that the White Paper is due because it is clear from your Lordships’ comments that an updating of the energy strategy is required. Can the Minister guarantee that it will include not just nuclear power but energy storage and the use of renewables to create a baseload so that we have a viable green strategy?

The noble Lord is quite right to introduce other forms of energy generation. The truth is that we need everything. If we are to reach zero carbon by 2050, we need a combination of renewables, energy conservation, carbon capture and storage, and battery technologies, as well as nuclear. As far as I know, the energy White Paper will address a number of these issues. Overall, the nuclear strategy will fall into three cross-cutting themes, as set out in the paper, that will result in greater economic opportunity: nations, regions and places; mobilising capital; and harnessing innovation.

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the SMRs. Did the answer that she gave on the involvement of nuclear power stations in 2035 assume that no SMRs will be active by that time? Is that the Government’s policy and, if not, when will the SMRs come on stream?

The Government’s policy is firmly to encourage the development of both AMRs and SMRs in a number of sites, including—the noble Lord’s own passion—Trawsfynydd and the site in Cumbria. He will have seen the announcement that Rolls-Royce is looking at both sites. We are still investing a lot of R&D money in consortiums that aim to provide small nuclear reactors that contribute to the national grid, although my original Answer did not include the contribution that they could make.

My Lords, with regard to the reference by the noble Lord, Lord West, to 2035, is that not the year in which petrol and diesel vehicles will begin to be phased out? Is it not the case that at the moment those vehicles consume something like 453 terawatt hours of energy each year? Total UK electricity production is only 335 terawatt hours per year. Does that not mean that, when diesel and petrol cars and other vehicles are phased out, we will need to double electricity production? Surely that just illustrates the point that the noble Lord, Lord West, is making. With the phasing out of fossil fuel vehicles, we will need to double nuclear production in 2035—the equivalent of 20 Hinkley Point C stations. Is that really realistic?

My noble friend raises a very important point, which is why we are determined to make our new nuclear projects a success and to develop small and advanced modular reactors. Our investment in hydrogen fuel cells might also assist in the development of cars powered not just by electricity but by hydrogen.

My Lords, there have been persistent stories in the British media that future nuclear reactors will involve some input from the People’s Republic of China. Over recent months we have seen, overtly and covertly, how the American Administration have sought to frustrate the involvement of Huawei in 5G telephonic networks. What will Her Majesty’s Government’s reaction be if the American Administration take the same view about Chinese involvement in our nuclear power programme?

I cannot say what the Government’s reaction to that would be but I can confirm that the China General Nuclear Power Group is still considering Bradwell as the site of a new nuclear power station. Its reactor design is in the fourth and final stage of the generic design assessment. However, safety and security are of paramount importance to the UK Government, and any investments in the UK energy market are subject to a thorough national security review. The UK has a robust and effective regulatory regime and plays a leading role in setting international standards. It will be up to the Government to reassure the United States that this does not prejudice our national security.