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Wilfred Aspinall: The Conservative manifesto must include ambitious nuclear power programme | Conservative Home

Wilfred Aspinall is a member of the Hitchin Conservative Association and a former Chairman of the Forum in the European Parliament for Construction and Energy

As we gear up for the Conservative manifesto later this week, we should examine some of the unsung initiatives that the Government has pursued that will impact of all our daily lives – for example, the use of nuclear power to indigenously produce 25 per cent of electricity from nuclear power, the better to meet our Net Zero commitments.

It was good to hear Claire Coutinho, the Energy Secretary, recently setting out the argument. Now is the time for the government to openly declare this nuclear initiative and promise to action  the programme

Nuclear power plants take a considerable time to establish: agreeing on where they will be sited, sorting out funding and procurement, local consultations, planning regulations and bureaucracy, the tendering process, finding and employing professional people to undertake these tasks, arranging how and where nuclear waste will be safely dealt with… all these things take time.

The UK has a bad habit of leaving good ideas to the last minute – and then wondering why construction cost has gone up. Nuclear is a project especially at risk of falling foul to the modern British disease of kicking cans down the road.

We must waste no time; the GBN (Great Britain Nuclear) project could be an unstoppable programme. Set out the contracts and tenders, get to work as quickly as possible. The objective must be to extend our nuclear fleet and to do this urgently. Better to meet deadlines early than never.

We have to adopt policies that secure our energy supply well beyond 2050, and that move us away from imported fuel supplies.

It is a fact that importing our energy supply leaves us vulnerable to increased prices from dominant suppliers. As a sovereign state we have had the benefit of rich oil and gas fields, and these will continue to be needed for some time. Licenses must continue to be given where oil and gas fields are discovered.

Security of supply is of utmost importance, not only in order to maintain business competitiveness but to keep the lights on.

The last industrial revolution only happened because we had at our disposal vast quantities of high-quality coal. It was this that allowed us to capitalise on the innovations and entrepreneurial spirit of that age, and transform both this country and the world.

We can, and must, do the same again – and this time in a manner that protects the planet by delivering a step-change onto newer, greener sources of energy.

An industrial-revolutionary attitude towards energy will turbocharge both economic growth and levelling up, with new infrastructure and cheaper prices boosting our productivity and competitiveness whilst creating skilled jobs. Work on that should start as soon as possible.

Of course, we have wind and solar at our disposal and these should not be neglected. But security and reliability of supply demand that we look beyond these technologies.

The need for nuclear is inescapable. Moreover, constructing new plants throughout the country would offer an immediate boost to economic growth: inward investment, good jobs, and all the secondary economic activity entailed by modern supply chains.

Our mission should be to create the conditions for nuclear energy to provide 25 per cent of our electricity supply. Earlier this year, the Government published Civil Nuclear: Roadmap to 2050. It was a good start, but the moment demands even greater ambition: we need to be getting on with developing a fleet of nuclear power plants, in line with this road map, as soon as possible.

Nuclear power is a product that is safe, secure, and clean; historical objections have been overtaken by modern, rigorous regulations. 2050 looms on us and we have a lot to do, starting with the deployment of a fleet of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) throughout the country, supplying local electricity needs at competitive prices. As many as possible to be up and running by 2030s, if not before.

Government must learn from the past that all potential regulation must be carefully considered – and take care not to allow this nuclear project to fall into monopoly control, especially by foreign investors.

The advantages of the SMR project is that they can be cost-effectively and swiftly built and brought online – unlike the big nuclear plants such as Hinckley Point, Sizewell, and Sellafield, which take a decade even just to start construction and are thus at greater risks of mid-project modifications, with all the associated costs.

We need to decide where these SMR’s are to be located; planning applications cannot be left to local authorities. There must be a dedicated, national plan covering every SMR to be located and built – not each plant dealt with on a separate basis. Every SMR will have the same design, and thus very similar infrastructure and associated requirements.

No need to waste vast amounts of time, and forests of paperwork, making individual cases in innumerable consultations.

On top of this, the Government currently plans to build a £196-million uranium enrichment facility. Located at Capenhurst in Cheshire, this will cement the status of the North-West of England as a world leader in nuclear fuel production and support around 400 highly-skilled jobs, as well as bolstering the local economy and national growth.

By 2031, Capenhurst will produce fuel which can be either used domestically or exported. At a stroke, this would end Russia’s reign as the only commercial producer of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), bolstering our balance of trade and helping wean other nations off Russian exports.

Nuclear energy is vital to a prosperous future for Britain. The Party must make a clear case that a national nuclear programme will not only deliver energy security, but lead to lower consumer prices and bolster our exports too. A properly-resourced infrastructure project such as this will benefit every British citizen – voters must not be left in any doubt about that.

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