Boris Johnson will chair a meeting on how to increase the UK’s nuclear power output on Monday, as he prepares to publish his energy security strategy this month amid soaring prices.
The prime minister will discuss domestic nuclear projects with leaders from the nuclear industry at a roundtable meeting at Downing Street, No 10 said.
Johnson is expected to publish the government’s energy security strategy later in March, against a backdrop of rocketing energy bills, which were already creating a cost of living crisis even before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine led ministers to pledge to phase out Russian energy.
The UK generated less than half (43%) of its electricity from renewable sources in 2020, and gas-fired power plants still play a significant role, with Britain reliant on gas for heating as well as electricity. Nuclear power plants currently provide about a sixth of the UK’s electricity.
Johnson has previously announced that he intends to remove fossil fuels from UK electricity generation by 2035, and has also argued that the country should invest in more domestic nuclear and renewable energy in order to become more self-sufficient.
No 10 officials said topics expected to be discussed at the roundtable meeting include how government and industry can work together to remove barriers and progress future nuclear projects in the UK more quickly and cheaply. Downing Street added that nuclear power is a “safe, clean and reliable energy source”.
Last November, the government agreed to invest in a new generation of mini-nuclear reactors, being developed by engineering firm Rolls-Royce.
Ministers hope that these small modular reactors, or SMRs, will be quicker and cheaper to build than traditional large-scale nuclear reactors – such as the Hinkley Point C project – which pose considerable construction risks and are often beset by spiralling costs and delays.
Johnson told Conservative members at the party’s spring conference in Blackpool over the weekend that the government was going to place some “big bets on nuclear power”, including backing SMRs and larger projects. However, some environmental experts have raised concerns over how to safely dispose of nuclear waste after the decommissioning of nuclear power plants.
Labour has said it supports building more nuclear sites, and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves called on Sunday for ministers to “get on with the investment in new nuclear”, as well as renewable energy.
Johnson is also due to meet executives from the wind sector in the coming days as he looks to bolster domestic energy sources from all available quarters.