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22 February 2024

Great British Nuclear - The UK Government’s New Energy Independence Strategy


Great British Nuclear (GBN) is a new UK government organisation established in 2023 to support nuclear power and drive the delivery of new nuclear projects. GBN will work with the Department for Energy and Climate Change to provide better opportunities for investment in nuclear energy, helping to ensure that the UK has a secure and reliable long-term source of power.

GBN is part of a raft of 12 new energy initiatives announced by the government this spring in their ‘Powering Up Britain’ policy paper, which aims to link together the country’s Energy Security Plan with the existing Net Zero decarbonisation strategy.



Energy independence

The ultimate goal of GBN is to bolster ‘energy independence’ by securing 25% of the country’s energy requirements from nuclear sources by 2050 (up from the current 15%), reducing the dependence of the UK on imports of fossil fuels from overseas. This is especially timely given recent world events such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine and other geopolitical tensions.

Encouraging innovation

One of the key ways that GBN is set to promote growth in the industry is by encouraging innovation through targeted competitions and grants. An early example of this is the new competition launched in April 2023 to find the best design of “Small Modular Reactor” and identify the best small modular reactor (SMR) technology for the UK. SMRs are an efficient way to generate clean, reliable electricity, and their development could be a major step forward in achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The competition is set to enter its shortlist phase this summer, with the winning technologies hopefully selected in the autumn.

Safety and sustainability

GBN will also work with other government organisations and Quangos, such as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the Office for Nuclear Regulation to ensure that all aspects of nuclear energy are safe and secure, providing an efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable approach to nuclear energy in the UK.

Reception and criticism

The Nuclear Institute has welcomed the launch of GBN, noting that it is “a key part of the UK's journey to Net Zero”. The Institute also highlighted how 24 GW of nuclear-generated electricity could be achieved by 2035 - an ambitious but realistic goal if GBN is successful in its mission.

However, GBN has also been met with criticism from some quarters. One of the main criticisms levelled at GBN is that it could lead to an over-reliance on nuclear power. This could mean that other (and arguably more cost-effective) renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are neglected, leading to a lack of diversity in the UK's energy mix. Critics also point out that nuclear power is expensive and power plants can take a long time to build, making it difficult for the UK to meet its net zero emissions targets by 2050.

The long lead time for nuclear infrastructure also places newly built plants at risk of early obsolescence if they are overtaken by rapidly emerging energy technologies, building the foundations of tomorrow’s power network on yesterday’s technologies.

Another ongoing critique of GBN is that it does not adequately address the safety concerns surrounding nuclear power. Despite advances in containment technology, there is still a risk of accidents or leaks which, although low, could have catastrophic consequences for public health and the environment should they occur. There are also enduring and unaddressed concerns about how to safely dispose of nuclear waste and spent reactor cores, which can remain radioactive for thousands or even millions of years.

A positive initiative

Despite these concerns, overall Great British Nuclear has been met with optimism and positivity, due to its potential for providing cleaner and more efficient sources of energy while increasing energy independence. With strong support from both government and industry stakeholders, GBN looks set to make a positive difference in helping Britain reach its net zero targets over the next 20 to 30 years.

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