Following the publication of the Nuclear White Paper in January 2008, the Government has continued to progress its Nuclear Action Plan amid increasing public support. The Government's overall aim is to encourage the nuclear industry to build a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK to replace the 20% of electricity currently supplied by existing stations.

2008 saw the creation of the Office of Nuclear Development and the Nuclear Development Forum and the publishing of and consultation on the draft siting criteria (the Strategic Siting Assessment) for new nuclear build.

2009 will see the continuation of the Government's Action Plan, recent developments including the completion of the sale of British Energy to EDF on 9 January 2009 and the recent publication of the 'Justification' consultation, one of the first steps in the long consultative process for new nuclear build.

COMPLETION OF BRITISH ENERGY SALE TO EDF ENERGY

Following regulatory clearance by the European Commission during December 2008, the £12.5bn takeover of British Energy Group plc by French power company EDF Energy completed on 9 January 2009, marking a culmination of the restructuring of British Energy. The sale which includes the 36% stake in the company held by the Government's Nuclear Liabilities Fund, raises approximately £4.4bn towards the cost of decommissioning British Energy's existing nuclear power stations.

The Government has welcomed the completion of the takeover with Business Secretary Lord Mandelson commenting:

'Completion of this takeover represents not only a £12.5bn investment in the UK, but in opening the way for nuclear build, should provide many billions of pounds more opportunity for the UK supply chain'.

PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON 'JUSTIFICATION' OF NEW NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS

Nuclear reactor designs have been subjected to public scrutiny as a result of the Government's consultation on the 'Justification of new nuclear power stations' launched on 17 December 2008. This follows an application by Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) for Justification of the four nuclear reactor designs initially submitted to UK regulators for Generic Design Assessment.

The Government is consulting on whether the information presented in the application supports the case that the benefits of the practice outweigh the health detriments. EU law requires that before any new nuclear power station is built, their designs must be 'justified'. This involves high-level, generic assessment to determine whether the overall benefit of the practice of ionizing radiation outweighs any associated health detriment.

Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, Mike O'Brien, announced the publication of the consultation document. He said:

"This Justification process is yet another example of the facilitative actions the Government is taking to support new nuclear power in the UK. At the same time, it gives people the opportunity to have their say on the benefits and detriments of the practices involved."

The consultation closes on 25 March 2009.

PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY ON THE UP

Support for new nuclear power stations is at its highest peak in a decade according to the latest review of public opinion by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Nuclear Industry Association.

The key outcomes of the research were that:

  • 65% of the public support nuclear as part of a balanced energy mix (10% disagree).
  • 44% of the public support the replacement of existing nuclear power stations, just 19% would oppose (the lowest figure recorded since polling began).
  • 40% of the public would back an increased role for nuclear in the UK's energy mix, only 24% would oppose further growth (a drop of 16 points in opposition since 2005).
  • The North-West has most support - probably based on the possible economic benefits of new nuclear - Scotland and Yorkshire are least favourable - but still positive on balance.
  • The public's prime concern on nuclear remains the disposal of radioactive waste.

NIA Chief Executive Keith Parker has tried to allay such concern over waste disposal, stating that technological solutions existed and government was moving towards the creation of a long-term repository.

"We understand people's concerns in this area but we must remember our waste is professionally managed and contained - and not released into the atmosphere to cause environmental damage. Overall, people recognise the benefits of secure, low carbon and stably-priced electricity that nuclear energy provides."