UK nuclear is at a crossroads. On the one hand it faces immense challenges in the form of Brexit, concerns over new build, a lack of leadership from government and a potentially serious skills shortfall. On the other hand, there are huge economic opportunities – if we can seize them.
The government’s own figures suggest the global market for nuclear technology and services, at all stages of the nuclear cycle from new build to decommissioning, could be worth as much as £1 trillion over the next 10 years. The market for new small modular reactors (SMRs) alone is estimated to be worth £250bn-£400bn.
Britain is home to the world’s first successful civil nuclear programme, and remains a world-leading nuclear power with decades of accumulated experience and expertise. The challenge for the government, industry and trade unions like Prospect is to ensure UK nuclear is equipped to deal with the challenges it faces, while also able to leverage its expertise and seize a slice of the huge economic opportunities on offer.
The scale of the challenges UK nuclear is facing shouldn’t be understated, though. The government’s decision to leave Euratom, the treaty that governs nuclear activity across Europe and which allows the UK to trade in nuclear materials and expertise, risks derailing Britain’s entire nuclear sector, harming progress at home and excluding British expertise from the rest of the world.
The nuclear industry is too big to get wrong and too important to let it flounder. The recent report from the National Audit Office on the Hinkley Point C nuclear project and concerns about value for money and delays underscore how vulnerable the new build programme is.
Alongside all of this is a long-simmering skills crisis brought on in part by an ageing workforce, a lack of adequate investment in skills training, and the requirements of the new build programme, exacerbated by the potential departure of skilled EU workers as a result of Brexit.
But these are not insurmountable problems.
If the government is willing to show real leadership and support the sector with adequate resources, UK nuclear could emerge in a stronger position than ever.
That is why Prospect has launched A New Deal for Nuclear, our proposals to government on what needs to be done to help UK nuclear overcome the obstacles it faces and realise its full potential. These include:
- Preparing for Brexit – we need a new framework of safeguards and protocols in place before we formally leave Euratom, and a commitment from government to fully replace the funding the treaty has provided to UK nuclear researchers.
- Leadership from government – it needs to affirm its commitment to the new build programme, put in place a “sector deal” that enshrines a partnership between government, industry and the unions, and adequately support the development of new nuclear technology, including by restarting the competition to develop a new SMR.
- Facing the skills challenge – we need a comprehensive, properly funded and streamlined skills programme that can provide the industry with the specialist workforce it needs to succeed. At the same time, Britain’s post-Brexit immigration policy needs to ensure that skilled workers are not locked out of the UK labour market. Nuclear is also a key candidate for a sector deal under the government’s industrial strategy framework and we are pressing the case for a clear social dialogue between government, employers and unions to underpin that.
- A champion for nuclear – UK nuclear needs an independent advocate to help it win business abroad, and to make the case for investment at home.
Given the chance, the industry can become the kind of engine for growth, jobs, and investment that the UK urgently needs in these uncertain times – that’s why it’s time for a New Deal for Nuclear.
- Download Prospect’s new pamphlet A New Deal for Nuclear from https://library.prospect.org.uk/download/2017/00997
- Mike Clancy is the general secretary of Prospect and a member of the government’s Nuclear Industry Council. He tweets at @mikeclancy1