UK energy secretary stresses nuclear's role in decarbonisation

21 May 2021

Kwasi Kwarteng, British secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, highlighted the role of nuclear power in a statement to the House of Commons this week to mark six months since the publication of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's 10-point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. During the subsequent debate, Members of Parliament quizzed Kwarteng on the government's commitment to nuclear new build.

Kwasi Kwarteng addressing MPs in the House of Commons on 18 May (Image:

The 10-point Plan, which Johnson unveiled last November, is "a radical and ambitious response" to the economic impact of COVID-19 and is projected to reduce UK emissions by 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2023 and 2032, Kwarteng said. It is also expected to create and support up to 250,000 jobs, and mobilise GBP12 billion (USD17 billion) of government investment and up to three times as much from the private sector by 2030.

"We are investing in the UK’s most important asset - our workforce - to ensure that our people have the right skills to deliver the low-carbon transition and thrive in the high-value jobs this will create. This is the case for the engineers and construction workers who will build the new offshore wind farms and nuclear plants to provide clean power to our homes, to the retrofitters who will make homes more comfortable and efficient," Kwarteng said.

During last year, the UK recorded more than two months of coal-free electricity generation, which is "the longest streak since the industrial revolution", he said. Two weeks ago, the country broke a new wind power record, he added, with both onshore and offshore wind turbines generating 48.5% of its electricity.

Since the 10-point Plan’s publication, the UK has enshrined its Sixth Carbon Budget in law, proposing in this a target that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels.

"That is an enormous commitment, but one that we are working extremely hard - flat out, indeed - to achieve," Kwarteng said. "Our Energy White Paper has set out a comprehensive, strategic vision for the transformation of the energy system consistent with delivering net-zero emissions by 2050. We have also launched our new, ambitious UK emissions trading scheme, for consultation later this year."

Nuclear a 'vital partner'

Charlotte Nichols, the Labour Party's MP for Warrington North, said that thousands of her constituents work in the nuclear sector, which only this week has seen students from Warrington University Technical College beginning prestigious degree apprenticeships at Sellafield in Warrington. This is proof, she said, that the sector is "a vital partner" in the skills and levelling-up agendas, meeting the UK's decarbonisation goals and creating high-quality green jobs.

"The government have rightly concluded that we need much more nuclear power in the mix to reach net zero. However, under their watch, three large-scale nuclear projects have been abandoned due to the lack of a financing mechanism, which the government claim to have been working on for four years. Why is nuclear financing more complicated than nuclear science?"

Charlotte Nichols

Nichols was referring to the abandoned Wylfa Newydd, Oldbury and Moorside projects, and to the fact EDF is waiting for the government's decision on the proposed regulated asset base model to finance its planned Sizewell C project. Last December, the government announced it would begin talks with EDF to enable investment in Sizewell C. That announcement was part of the Energy White Paper that outlines "historic plans" to clean up the country's energy system and "keep bills affordable" as it transitions to net zero.

Kwarteng replied that the third of the Prime Minister’s 10 points was "expressly committed to nuclear power".

"I was very pleased, as Energy Minister, to visit the nuclear college at Hinkley Point. I am sorry that I did not manage to go to Sellafield. We are completely committed to this, and we will bring forward in this Parliament legislation that will further commit us to creating more nuclear power in this country," he said.

Simon Fell, the Conservative Party's MP for Barrow and Furness - the site of the second-largest wind farm in the world - also posed a question about nuclear power.

Simon Fell

The 10-point Plan recognises "the immense value" of local jobs in offshore wind production, Fell said. "However, wind is not the only crucial renewable energy source in Cumbria: nuclear is hugely important and, as the honourable Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) said, we are reliant on it. With that in mind, will my right honourable Friend update the House on the financing policy that sits behind this to enable these jobs to be created?"

Kwarteng said that "sensitive discussions are being held all the time".

"The third point of the Prime Minister’s 10-point Plan was all about nuclear power. It said explicitly that we are committed to having a decision on a plant before the end of the Parliament. We are in conversations with operators and developers - very fruitful conversations, I might add - to bring that about, and we have an ongoing commitment to increasing, not decreasing, capacity in nuclear power."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News