The British government has breathed new life into the country’s nuclear energy programme as energy independence becomes a key pillar of its growth strategy.
“In the long-term, we have only one way to stop ourselves from being at the mercy of international gas prices: energy independence combined with energy efficiency,” the chancellor of the exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, said at the House of Commons in his Autumn Statement on November 17.
Mr Hunt then called for a major acceleration of homegrown technologies, such as offshore wind, carbon capture storage and, “above all, nuclear”.
“The government will proceed with a new nuclear plant at Sizewell C,” Mr Hunt said, referring to the nuclear power station in Suffolk, England. Sizewell C is co-owned by the French EDF Energy and Chinese China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), which hold an 80% stake and 20% stake of the project, respectively.
“Subject to final government approval, the contract for the initial investment will be signed with all the parties, including EDF in the coming weeks. Our £700m is the first state backing for a nuclear project in over 30 years and represents the biggest step on our journey to energy independence.”
Our £700m is the first state backing for a nuclear project in over 30 years and represents the biggest step on our journey to energy independence.
Mr Hunt expects the 3.2-gigawatt plant to generate enough electricity to power six million homes for 50 years. Originally proposed in 2008, the project has stalled for many years. CGN is now expected to be removed from the deal, with the British government and EDF reportedly each taking a 50% share in it.
Although this is being touted as a major step towards energy independence, so that “neither [Russian president Vladimir] Putin nor anyone else can use energy to blackmail us”, the plant will be built with French technology. Additionally, the nuclear energy industry heavily relies on Russia for the supply of both raw and enriched uranium. Russia is in the top-10 producers of mined uranium globally — with its close ally, Kazakhstan, taking first place — and accounted for nearly 40% of global uranium conversion services in 2020, according to a Columbia University report.
EDF says on its website it sources its uranium from mining operators in several countries, including Niger, Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia. According to the company’s website, EDF works with a variety of industrial partners to enrich uranium, including as the French group Areva and companies such as Urenco (a consortium between the UK, Germany and Netherlands), Russia-based Tenex and US-based USEC.
Mr Hunt has also slapped a 45% windfall tax on the profits generated by electricity producers, as the current market pricing system, combined with very volatile electricity prices, has inflated the profits of those power utilities that were able to hedge from the market volatility, while creating a £150bn surcharge for the whole country.