Boris Johnson is poised to launch major plans for a ‘green industrial revolution’ backing a new wave of nuclear power plants to boost the economy and slash Britain’s carbon emissions.
The proposals are expected to include the green light to build a nuclear plant at Sizewell C in Suffolk and the next stage in a programme that would lead to a production line of rapidly and more cheaply produced small modular reactors within a decade, The Mail on Sunday understands.
The Government is considering a ‘Made in Britain’ solution that may include a taxpayer-backed injection from an infrastructure growth fund – a plan that would need rubber stamping by the Treasury. Funding could also include backing from British pension funds.
Energy boost: : The Hinkley C nuclear power plant has received criticism over its high costs
It would allow the Government to help subsidise the small modular reactor programme (SMR) with as much as £2billion and a stake in Sizewell C of up to 10 per cent of its £20billion build costs. Sizewell C is backed by French state-backed EDF Energy, which could become a minority shareholder.
Government financing would also help slash the cost of electricity produced by the plant.
Britain has eight nuclear power plants, generating about a fifth of the country’s electricity. Seven are due to close by 2030.
The SMR consortium is led by Rolls-Royce and includes construction and engineering companies Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Jacobs and Laing O’Rourke. It hopes to build ten to 15 reactors in the UK, largely on former nuclear sites.
One Whitehall source said nuclear energy remains ‘key’ alongside other technologies such as carbon capture in meeting the Government’s commitment to slash emissions.
Plans are already being discussed for the possibility of joint sites in locations including Moorside in Cumbria – where Japanese multinational Toshiba recently pulled out of developing its own reactor – that could contain a large EDF-backed reactor and a smaller modular reactor, creating a ‘clean energy hub’.
The industrial strategy is underpinned by the Prime Minister’s tenpoint plan for a green energy revolution to prepare the country to meet its legal commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Last month, the Government committed to producing 40 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2030 – enough to power every home in the country based on current requirements – backed by £160million of funding to upgrade ports and infrastructure to support the huge rise in capacity.
The Government sees the green industrial strategy as essential to its promise to ‘level up’ regions which have failed to keep pace with the economic growth in other parts of the country over recent decades.
It will also help prepare for a switch from petrol engines to hybrid and electric vehicles, expected to accelerate towards the end of the decade.
It is understood that Johnson was due to make an announcement on the industrial strategy at last week’s annual CBI conference before his appearance was cancelled as Britain prepared for its second lockdown.
There is growing speculation across the nuclear industry that news on the Government’s energy ambitions could be revealed as soon as this week.
It is also likely the Government will use the Climate Ambition Summit on December 12 to promote its green strategy. The UK will co-host the summit with the UN and France to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, a multilateral commitment to keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees this century.
The move comes as Rolls-Royce steps up its preparations for a fleet of small nuclear power stations. The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the engineer has signed a memorandum of understanding with US power giant Exelon Generation, based in Chicago, which operates 21 nuclear power stations in the US.
If an agreement is struck, Exelon would operate stations built by the SMR consortium.
So far the Government’s nuclear energy strategy has been in reverse after the collapse of Toshiba’s plans at Moorside and Hitachi pulled out of the Wylfa nuclear power station project on Anglesey, North Wales.
There has also been heavy criticism over the cost of EDF’s Hinkley Point C in Somerset, which is likely to lead to higher electricity bills, and the involvement of Chinese state-backed providers at Hinkley and other possible sites.
EDF has insisted synergies with Hinkley will mean the cost of energy from a second plant at Sizewell C would be slashed.
It is understood site preparations could begin immediately and that planning consent for the project itself could be given as soon as 2022, meaning the plant could be online by 2032.
Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said last week: ‘The green recovery is at the centre of everything we are doing as a Government right now. One of the things I am looking at is de-carbonising our industrial clusters – areas where for historic reasons we have lots of industry and historically that industry has been a considerable source of carbon emissions.
‘Those clusters are centred around the Humber, Teesside, Merseyside and Southampton. In those particular areas we want to have strong de-carbonisation plans.
‘They are places which have had challenges in terms of jobs and we are really very focused on trying to make sure that the green recovery and investment in green technology is distributed much more evenly across the country than previous investment cycles have seen.
‘School leavers are an important part of this. More than 50 per cent of the population leave school before going to university and this is a huge pool of talent that is being overlooked.’