Our Government Policy Director, Chris Pook shares his thoughts on the Spring Budget 2023.
With any budget, it is tempting to look at the bare numbers and work out what is up, what is down and what has stayed the same.
Big numbers for carbon capture and storage and for defence are good news but for the nuclear sector, like many other energy and infrastructure sectors, stability, clarity and long term commitment to a programme of delivery are equally important, if not more so.
In that sense, the greatest success of Budget 2023 has been to deliver stability and continuity, maintaining the commitment to new nuclear power set out by previous Prime Ministers and building on previous announcements.
By providing a stable economic backdrop with incentives to increase capital investment, support R&D and establish investment zones across the country, the measures announced should create a positive environment for business investment and advanced manufacturing across the UK.
What is less clear though is whether this will be accompanied by sufficient pace and scale to realise the government’s ambitions for new nuclear energy and allow us to keep up with our global competitors, build domestic capability and deliver the clean, safe and secure domestic energy supply we urgently need.
The announcement of Great British Nuclear (GBN) and launch of a competition for the UK’s first small modular reactors (SMRs) is very promising but what happens in the next few weeks will be critical.
The Budget announcements need to be rapidly followed up with detail and a timetable to enable business to engage and prepare effectively, particularly if the SMR competition is to be completed by the end of 2023 as stated by the Chancellor.
We also need to see progress with previously announced funding for new nuclear, including the results of the Future Nuclear Enabling Fund competition and other funding for advanced nuclear technologies.
For GBN to succeed a reset is required in the relationship between government and industry, with closer partnership, transparency and shared commitment to joint goals. The establishment of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero offers a great opportunity to do things differently and GBN could revolutionise the way in which nuclear projects are delivered in the UK. How it operates in practice, and the freedoms it has to work in partnership with industry, will be critical in delivering a long-term programme and building investor confidence.
This will be greatly helped by the classification of nuclear energy as “environmentally sustainable” in the green taxonomy, subject to consultation, which will unlock access to the investment needed by the sector and enable nuclear to play on a level playing field with other energy technologies. The government should ensure this is put in place as quickly as possible to drive growth of the sector.
The Nuclear AMRC, Catapults and other translational research organisations are well-placed to help do this, connecting government, industry and academia, and working across the full breadth of the nuclear industry. It was encouraging to see that such organisations were recognised as having an important role to play in the new investment zones proposed by the Chancellor.
Nuclear AMRC can act as a key delivery partner for GBN and help the UK capture the full economic benefit from public and private investment. By developing innovative manufacturing capability we can reduce time and cost; by building supply chain readiness and skills we can help companies win business; and by connecting across the nuclear industry we can improve resilience and efficiency in the system as a whole.
As our CEO, Andrew Storer said: “I strongly welcome today’s announcement and the government’s commitment to establish Great British Nuclear to drive delivery of a programme of new nuclear power. Business needs the confidence that this will bring to invest in building industrial capability across the UK. The Nuclear AMRC will ensure that companies have access to the innovative manufacturing capability, resilient supply chains and skills needed to ensure the timely and cost-effective delivery of new nuclear power.
“This is an essential part of our future energy system and a great opportunity to drive jobs, skills development and growth across the UK as shown in our leading role in establishing the recently launched Rolls-Royce Nuclear Skills Academy. Our facilities in Rotherham and Warrington and a new technical facility in Derby will enable us to bring advanced manufacturing capability to support the Great British Nuclear mission in the heart of UK industry”.
So to finish where I started, although no big numbers were announced the government has maintained its commitment to new nuclear energy and has set out some of the things it intends to do to drive progress. But there is much to do over the next few weeks to fill in the details if we are to maintain the pace and scale of commitment required to deliver secure, clean and reliable energy to power the UK’s future growth.
Government Policy Director, Nuclear AMRC