Nov 9, 2020

News | UK Politics: UK's nuclear future to be decided at key meeting


Simon Jack

3-4 minutes - Source: BBC

Nuclear power plant (file image)image copyrightGetty Images

Nuclear power's role in the UK's future energy strategy will be discussed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson with the chancellor and business secretary at a meeting this month.

It comes ahead of a new 10-point plan for the UK to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The report is expected to be published next week.

The government insists it remains committed to the construction of new nuclear power stations.

They are part of an overall strategy to decarbonise the UK's electricity supply.

The trilateral meeting between Number 10, Number 11 and the Business Department will discuss what form that should take.

Of the six sites originally identified a decade ago, three have seen contractors pull out and only one is under construction - at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

The government is not expected to explicitly single out which project will get the go-ahead, but officials told the BBC that Sizewell in Suffolk is the only project ready to go if the government is to hit a target of starting construction of new nuclear within this parliament.

The Stop Sizewell C campaignimage copyrightThe Stop Sizewell C campaign

image captionThe Stop Sizewell C campaign projected images onto the Beis building ahead of the meeting

While there is strong union support for the transfer of jobs skills and new opportunities from Somerset to Suffolk, there is considerable local resistance to a massive construction project, which activists say will pose an ecological threat to important local wildlife areas.

The government is also considering bringing forward a ban on new petrol and diesel engines from its current official target of 2040, to 2035 or earlier.

It's thought the new time frame will be somewhere between 2030 and 2034.

The 10-point plan is also expected to include:

  • New investment in technology to capture carbon at the point fossil fuels are burnt
  • Research into how hydrogen can replace fossil fuels
  • A significant expansion of the role of offshore wind

Turbines at Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Wind Farm built by EDFimage copyrightAFP

image captionTurbines at Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Wind Farm built by EDF

Its also expected that the government will set a new target for heating homes with electricity-powered heat pumps.

The replacement of 25 million gas boilers in UK homes is recognised as one of the hardest parts of the move to net zero carbon by 2050.

Although many energy industry experts remain sceptical that small nuclear reactors can play a significant role, the BBC understands that the government has big ambitions to progress this technology, and that it will form an important part of the government's long term plans.

A detailed white paper on the future shape of UK energy policy is expected in late November

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