Is it oui or non to nuclear in the UK?

Posted on 1 Jun 2012

The new build nuclear industry's future is murky, but Nabarro’s Martin McKervey says that the impressive Nuclear AMRC in Rotherham surely shows that a manufacturing road map is not far away.

“With details of the Government’s draft energy bill now released and socialist president, Francois Hollande, sweeping to power in France, what does the future hold for the UK’s multi-billion new build nuclear plans?

One fifth of our energy generating capacity is expected to be shut down over the next 10 years: ageing nuclear plants will be decommissioned and coal-fired power stations closed as the UK seeks to produce 35% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Yet the demand for electricity is forecast to double between now and 2050. So how are we going to fill the energy gap?

The draft energy bill is designed to stimulate major investment in nuclear and renewable energy. So it would seem its full steam ahead in the UK for nuclear. But the political climate could prove a stumbling block. In March, German power companies RWE npower and E.On pulled out of their venture to build two of the six planned new UK nuclear reactors in the wake of Fukushima.

This leaves a joint EDF Energy/Centrica consortium as the sole remaining player in the field.

French energy giant EDF Energy is 83% state owned and, unlike Sarkozy, Hollande is no fan of nuclear – his election campaign included a pledge to close half of France’s 48 nuclear reactors. So is he really likely to be in favour of EDF investing heavily in UK nuclear power?

Martin McKervey of Nabarro is seeking a clearer prognosis for new nuclear
Nabarro's Martin McKervey is seeking a clearer prognosis for new nuclear

South Yorkshire boasts the world class Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC) which is going to be the hub for the supply chain dynamic of nuclear new build in the UK.

Whatever the temperature check of the political uncertainty in Europe might be at the moment, it’s not rubbing off on the NAMRC where there’s palpable confidence that new build nuclear is going to happen in the UK. Indeed, some would say it must happen.

As Alan Cumming, head of procurement at EDF, reminded a business audience at the Nabarro manufacturing dinner in Sheffield last year, if new build nuclear doesn’t go ahead ‘the lights are going out’. The reality is, we’re in a bad economy that’s showing no signs of getting better fast – and the new build nuclear programme is a supply chain worth £28bn. So which is it, politics or the economy?

It is really a case of political debate, is it not also an economic prerogative?”

Oui or non?