15 March 2023

Chancellor reclassifies nuclear power as ‘environmentally sustainable’

15 March 2023

Nuclear energy is to be reclassified as “environmentally sustainable” to give it the same access to investment incentives as renewables, the Chancellor has said.

In his Spring Budget delivered on Wednesday, Jeremy Hunt said the Government will launch a Great British Nuclear scheme to “bring down costs” and “provide opportunities” in the supply chain with a view to nuclear power providing 25% of the UK’s electricity generation by 2050.

He also launched a competition for small modular reactors (SMRs), which will be funded if the technology is proven to be viable, and he reiterated an announcement made in the autumn to invest £700 million in Sizewell C nuclear power station planned in Suffolk.

We are world leaders in renewable energy so today I want to develop another plank of our green economy

Mr Hunt also said that he wants to invest up to £20 billion to help develop carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) technologies. These are designed to suck up carbon from the emissions from major polluting industries, such as the steel, glass or power.

However, none of the new money for CCUS that Mr Hunt has promised will come before the next election, after which he may no longer be Chancellor.

He said that he hopes that the money can help a sector which he said could support up to 50,000 jobs.

“We are world leaders in renewable energy so today I want to develop another plank of our green economy, carbon capture usage and storage,” Mr Hunt said.

Policy announcements for renewable energy are expected later in the month with many green groups hoping for what has been nicknamed the Government’s “Green Day”.

The Chancellor set out what he called the four Es – enterprise, education, employment and everywhere – when setting out his budget priorities.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said he had “utterly failed” to mention a fifth – environment.

She said: “Just when we needed a solar rooftop revolution, an unblocking and upscaling of renewables, a major street-by-street mass insulation programme, and a commitment to invest in our totally neglected, sewage-filled rivers and seas, we get too slow, too expensive and too dangerous nuclear white elephants.

“A budget that fails to protect our environment gravely risks damaging our economy too.”

Prof Adrian Bull of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester said: “The Chancellor’s words on nuclear give a positive message, but it’s more like a greatest hits compilation from the past, rather than anything new.

“Confirming nuclear’s environmental credentials will certainly help attract investment – but it’s only stating the obvious. Nuclear is as low-carbon as renewables and should always have been treated that way.

“He’s announced Great British Nuclear – which is about the fourth time it’s been announced. What we need is to see it actually come into being, and to see a clear plan of what it will do.

“And – bizarrely – he launched the first competition for SMRs. Maybe there is nobody left in Whitehall who remembers the (abortive) SMR competition which George Osborne launched back in 2015, promising an SMR in the UK in the 2020s.

“Let’s just hope this one actually leads to something!”

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