SMR launch

Nuclear energy plan puts pressure on Holyrood

Rolls-Royce small modular reactor
Small modular reactors are cheaper and quicker to build than traditional stations

Scottish government ministers will come under further pressure to ease their ban on nuclear energy as the UK government prepares to commit £20 billion to a network of small modular reactors (SMRs).

Grant Shapps, the UK Energy Secretary, will announce plans to directly fund the development of up to eight stations that will help meet net zero targets.

He will invite companies to submit bids for funding that is being overseen by a government body called Great British Nuclear (GBN). Rolls-Royce and GE Hitachi are among those leading the development of SMRs.

The plan is expected to unlock billions of pounds of private investment ahead of the government’s target to decarbonise electricity generation by 2035.

The Scottish Government has said it will veto any plans for new nuclear energy capacity north of the border.

Andrew Bowie, the Conservatives’ minister for energy in the Commons, said it was an “incredibly exciting day” and that Britain was moving faster than other countries in developing the SMR technology.

He described the SNP”s veto as “wrong-headed” and said “one of the beauties of the National Grid is that all of the UK would benefit from the electricity created by the investment.”

“As long as the Scottish Government have in place a policy where they will not countenance new nuclear technology we will not be deploying any small modular reactors north of the border.

“However, I would encourage them to change their mind.”

SMRs can power up to 400,000 homes and will be cheaper and faster to build than conventional power stations. With a lifespan of more than 60 years they will be significantly cheaper to run than gas power stations.

Critics say the technology is untested and point to cost overruns and delays that have plagued big nuclear projects such as Hinkley Point C.

Ministers say the plan will put Britain in a leading position in an emerging technology. Projects are due to be selected in the autumn.  

Rolls-Royce last year selected four sites as locations for its first stations. Three — Trawsfynydd in north Wales, Wylfa on Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire — are alongside decommissioned Magnox nuclear stations. The fourth is Sellafield in Cumbria, home to Britain’s first efforts in civil nuclear programmes and the repository for much of Britain’s nuclear waste.

GE Hitachi says its BWRX-300 says it is the only one that could realistically be operating in Britain by 2030.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Mr Shapps said that Britain would once again be at the “forefront of global innovation”.

He added: “By rapidly boosting our homegrown supply of nuclear and other clean, reliable, and abundant energy, we will drive down bills for British homes and make sure the UK is never held to energy ransom.”

Simon Bowen, interim chairman of GBN, described the start of the SMR selection process as “a real step forward in delivering the scale of nuclear power that Britain needs for a secure, sustainable energy future.”

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