John Hutton, the UK's business and enterprise minister, said that the construction of new nuclear power plants in the country could be "the most significant opportunity for our energy economy since the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas."
UK business minister, John Hutton
Speaking at a conference of Unite, the largest manufacturing union in the UK, he said that a new generation of nuclear power plants in the UK "could position the UK as the gateway to a new nuclear renaissance across Europe." He added, "The potential scale and complexity of each investment is breathtaking."
Hutton said: "More countries are looking to a range of low carbon solutions to answer their own energy challenges. There has never been a greater global demand for finance, equipment and skills to build and operate nuclear power stations. And here too I want Britain to be leading the world in the development and application of this new generation of low carbon power technology."
The government "has done the easy bit", Hutton said, referring to publication of the Energy white paper in May 2007 and its subsequent adoption in early 2008 into policy. He added, "The hard task lies ahead" and that "translating this policy into action on the ground is now my top priority."
Hutton noted that the UK "faces its own tough competition for new nuclear investment. From the US, China, India, France and many others. The acid test for politicians in the critical two year window that lies ahead, is whether we can clear a path to becoming the number one place in the world for companies to do business in new nuclear power. That is my ambition for my country."
He has met with potential investors from the USA, Europe and Japan and said that "there are powerful signals from them and others in the industry that the UK is now one of the world’s most viable new build markets." Hutton added, "I want to cement this interest through a major investor conference in London later this summer." He said that investor confidence will be dependent upon "focussing relentlessly on, what I would describe as, five key building blocks: regulation, planning, sites, waste and skills."
The replacement of the UK's existing nuclear capacity alone could represent some GBP20 billion ($40 billion) worth of business for UK companies, Hutton said. However, he said he did not want to see "just a like for like replacement of nuclear capacity in the UK." Hutton said, "now with no artificial cap to constrain the potential of new build in the UK, there is every reason to believe that the industry could be contributing a significantly higher proportion of the UK's energy in the decades ahead." This, he said, would create thousands of jobs and that "the prize could be absolutely massive." The minister noted, "Obviously, it's up to the market to decide what investment takes place. But energy security and climate change should provide the push for a significant expansion of nuclear in the UK in the coming decades."
Hutton concluded, "Our job now - government, unions, business and employees - is to ensure we are ready, able and qualified to make the next steps forward."