Hunt also said the government would launch the first competition for small modular reactors. It will be completed by the end of this year and if demonstrated as viable “we will co-fund this exciting new technology”.
He announced the launch of Great British Nuclear, a government-backed agency which will he said will bring down costs and provide opportunities across the nuclear supply chain to help provide up to 25% of the country’s electricity by 2050, up from around 15% today.
The government said when it first proposed Great British Nuclear last year that it will be tasked with helping projects through every stage of the development process and developing “a resilient pipeline of new builds”.
The UK nuclear industry welcomed the chancellor’s announcement, saying Great British Nuclear could deliver a fleet of large and sizewell-scale nuclear power stations.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the London-based Nuclear Industry Association, called it “a huge step forward for UK energy security and net zero”.
Nuclear’s Taxonomy Inclusion ‘Vital’
He said: “Nuclear’s inclusion in the UK Green Taxonomy is a vital move, following the example set by other leading nuclear nations, and will drive crucial investment into new projects, making it cheaper and easier to finance new reactors.
“The launch of Great British Nuclear with powers to select sites for new projects will make nuclear deployment much more efficient and give the supply chain a clear pipeline to work from.”
Hunt told MPs: “We have increased the proportion of electricity generated from renewables from under 10% to nearly 40%.
“But because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, we will need another critical source of cheap and reliable energy. And that is nuclear.”
He said nuclear’s inclusion in the taxonomy would be subject to consultation.
The European Union has a similar taxonomy, essentially a set of rules guiding companies and investors on green investments.
In July, members of the European parliament decided to “follow the science” and support legislation which included nuclear in the bloc’s taxonomy.
UK Has Seen Reactor Shutdowns
In recent years the UK has generated about 15% of its power from its fleet of commercial nuclear power plants, but most are being retired this decade, with the last one – Sizewell B – due to close in 2035.
Since 2000, the UK has seen permanent reactor shutdowns at Hinkley Point A, Bradwell, Calder Hall, Hunterston, Oldbury, Sizewell, Chapelcross, Dungeness and Wylfa.
The only remaining operating plants are nine reactors across four sites at Hartlepool, Heysham, Sizewell B and Torness. There are two plants under construction at Hinkley Point C and another two in the pipeline at Sizewell C.
A recent government-ordered net zero review titled Mission Zero said the UK needs to “double down” on achieving its nuclear baseload requirement by fast-tracking a pipeline of “no-regrets” plans including new nuclear technologies and small modular reactors if it is to meet its net zero carbon emission targets.
The need for fast-tracked schemes was one of 129 recommendations made by former energy minister Chris Skidmore in the independent report.
The UK is building two nuclear plants at Hinkley Point C. Courtesy EDF.