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UK ‘running to catch up’ with nuclear power

The UK should have done more to boost nuclear power “years ago” and is “running to catch up”, a minister has conceded.

Andrew Bowie, the nuclear minister, said he made “no bones” about the fact the Government is making up for lost ground with new funds for skills and jobs aimed at shoring up Britain’s energy security in the wake of the Ukraine war.

He also said the multi-million pound investment will help “refresh” the UK’s sea deterrent – as it will provide a boost to the nuclear workforce.

On Monday, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, is to declare a “critical national endeavour” to secure the future of Britain’s nuclear sector, with an immediate cash injection of £20 million to support growth in Barrow-in-Furness, the Cumbrian town that is home to the UK’s Astute-class submarines and Dreadnought programme.

This will be ramped up by a minimum of £20 million a year over the next decade to “make Barrow an even more attractive place to live, work, and build a nuclear career”.

The Government is also partnering with industry leaders including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, EDF and Babcock to invest around £763 million in skills, jobs and education by 2030.

No 10 hopes the money will create more than 8,000 career opportunities to help fill 40,000 new roles by the end of the decade.

Andrew Bowie said ministers had "full confidence" in the UK's sea deterrent but acknowledged it was in need of a "refresh" - Justin Ng/Avalon

Andrew Bowie said ministers had “full confidence” in the UK’s sea deterrent but acknowledged it was in need of a “refresh” – Justin Ng/Avalon

Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Bowie acknowledged that the UK is now playing “catch up” after years of delay.

“I make no bones about it, we should have done this years ago, we are running to catch up but we have just this year delivered our civil nuclear road map, we have announced our intention to build a third gigawatt project [and] we are investing £350 million in new nuclear power to ease Vladimir Putin out of the nuclear fuels market,” he said.

“We are absolutely committed to delivering small modular reactors through our competition which will conclude this year.

“But of course this should have been done years ago which is why we are having to take the action in the way that we are right now.”

He said ministers had “full confidence” in the UK’s sea deterrent but acknowledged it was in need of a “refresh”.

When it was put to him Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet was feeling the strain, he said: “We have got full confidence in our submariners, in the Royal Navy and in our ability to maintain our continuous at sea deterrent, something we have been doing for over 55 years.

“But it is time for a refresh, that is why we have such an ambitious programme in the Dreadnought programme, combined with our Aukus programme and our civil nuclear defence projects.

“That is why we are making the announcement that we are today to increase our workforce here, delivering these nuclear projects, by about 40,000 people.”

Mr Sunak went on to give a far more positive assessment of the Tories’ record in an apparent rebuttal of Mr Bowie’s comments.

Asked about the energy minister’s remarks later on Monday, he told reporters at BAE Systems Submarines in Barrow: “What we have seen under the Conservatives has been a renaissance in the nuclear industry and that’s because the Conservative Party is one that unequivocally backs nuclear power and our nuclear deterrent.”

He added: “These decisions do take time, but if you look at what’s happened since 2010, we have green-lighted Sizewell C [and] Hinkley Point, so two nuclear power stations, we are making progress on small modular reactors and we have recommitted to our nuclear deterrent and a new generation of nuclear submarines and a replacement warhead.

“All of that has happened under a Conservative Government.”

Source: The Telegraph