UK parties make scant reference to nuclear power

19 May 2017

The manifestos of the three leading political parties in the UK contain few direct references to nuclear power. The documents were published this week as part of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat campaigning ahead of the general election on 8 June. Their campaigns have been dominated by the prospect of two years of Brexit talks with the European Union.

The Conservative Party's manifesto does not mention the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), but its leader, Prime Minister Theresa May, has already stated that exiting the EU also entails leaving Euratom. Some lawyers have disputed this requirement, arguing that the decision is based on the party's preference to end all ties with the European Court of Justice.

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis told the House of Commons on 31 January the government's Brexit Bill makes clear that in invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the European Union, the UK will also be leaving Euratom. Davis said this is because, although Euratom was established in a treaty separate to the EU agreements and treaties, it uses the same institutions as the EU, including the European Court of Justice.

Brexit talks under May are also expected to lead to the UK's withdrawal from the EU Emissions Trading System.

The few references to nuclear power in her party's manifesto concern the protection of "critical national infrastructure". It says: "We will ensure that foreign ownership of companies controlling important infrastructure does not undermine British security or essential services. We have already strengthened ministerial scrutiny and control in respect of civil nuclear power and will take a similarly robust approach across a limited range of other sectors, such as telecoms, defence and energy." It adds: "We will create a national infrastructure police force, bringing together the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police and the British Transport Police to improve the protection of critical infrastructure such as nuclear sites, railways and the strategic road network."

On climate change, it says energy policy should be "focused on outcomes rather than the means".

"So, after we have left the European Union, we will form our energy policy based not on the way energy is generated but on the ends we desire - reliable and affordable energy, seizing the industrial opportunity that new technology presents and meeting our global commitments on climate change.

"That is why we will continue to take a lead in global action against climate change, as the government demonstrated by ratifying the Paris Agreement. We were the first country to introduce a Climate Change Act, which Conservatives helped to frame, and we are halfway towards meeting our 2050 goal of reducing emissions by 80% from 1990 levels."

Labour, currently the main opposition party in the House of Commons and House of Lords, says in its manifesto that it would prioritise maintaining access to the internal energy market during Brexit negotiations. It says it would also retain access to Euratom "to allow continued trade of fissile material, with access and collaboration over research vital to our nuclear industry".

Its manifesto's other references to nuclear power acknowledge that the UK "has the world's oldest nuclear industry, and nuclear will continue to be part of the energy supply", and states that the Labour Party will "support further nuclear projects and protect nuclear workers' jobs and pensions", and that "there are considerable opportunities for nuclear power and decommissioning both internationally and domestically".

The party also said that, if it won the election, it would "reclaim Britain's leading role in tackling climate change, working hard to preserve the Paris Agreement and deliver on international commitments to reduce emissions while mitigating the impacts of climate change on developing countries".

The Liberal Democrats say in their manifesto they will maintain membership of Euratom, ensuring continued nuclear cooperation, research funding, and access to nuclear fuels.

They also say they will "accept that new nuclear power stations can play a role in electricity supply provided concerns about safety, disposal of waste and cost are adequately addressed, new technology is incorporated, and there is no public subsidy for new build".

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat and then-energy and climate change secretary, gave initial agreement to the Hinkley Point C new nuclear plant in 2013. This was conditional on a 'no public subsidy' policy, which the government then dropped when it approved the project in 2015.

On climate change, the Liberal Democrats say that Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president "could halt or even reverse" progress. The party would therefore establish a Cabinet Committee on Sustainability, chaired by a cabinet minister, and an Office for Environmental Responsibility to "scrutinise the government's efforts to meet its environmental targets".

Three developers have plans to build new nuclear plants in the UK.

EDF Energy plans to build two EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, with China General Nuclear (CGN) owning a 33.5% stake in the project. The two companies also plan to develop projects to build new plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex, the latter using Chinese reactor technology.

Unlike state-owned EDF Energy and CGN, the other UK new nuclear developers - Horizon Nuclear Power and NuGeneration - are private investor vehicles. Horizon, which is owned by Japan's Hitachi, plans to deploy the UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor at two sites - Wylfa Newydd and Oldbury-on-Severn. Nugen - the UK joint venture between Japan's Toshiba and France's Engie - plans to build a nuclear power plant of up to 3.8 GWe gross capacity at Moorside, in West Cumbria, using AP1000 nuclear reactor technology provided by Westinghouse Electric Company, a group company of Toshiba.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News