2016 a year of progress for UK nuclear

2016 has been a turbulent year in both politics and business and the nuclear industry had not been immune to that. Looking back, the year brought real progress for the industry with the final investment decision taken for the first new nuclear power station in the UK for 30 years.

As has been the case through the history of the Hinkley Point C project, the journey to the final investment decision was not straight forward: caught up with the change of Prime Minister following the Brexit vote, the new Prime Minister, Theresa May put Government approval for the project on hold while she reviewed the decision (not the only decision she reviewed) but ultimately the project was given the go ahead in September.

New build has also seen steady progress on other sites:

  • Horizon completed its final major consultation before submitting its planning application for Wylfa
  • NuGen carried out its site characterisation for Moorside, alongside the National Grid’s progress with the grid connection for Moorside.
  • EDF Energy also moved forward with their Sizewell C project, which is due to follow on from Hinkley, launching the second stage consultation for the site.

While there has not been a big milestone in decommissioning this year progress has continued. Despite the turbulence in government, funding for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has been maintained. Sellafield has continued to move forward on its highest hazard sites such as the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo where new exterior doors have been fitted and work has started on cutting up the interior.

There have been also changes within the NDA itself with the announced departures of its Chairman Stephen Henwood and Chief Executive John Clark. Mr Henwood he will be replaced by Tom Smith early in the 2017 but there is no announcement yet on Mr Clark’s successor. The organisation was also subject to a highly critical Panorama programme in the Autumn which caused the Public Accounts Committee to call for increased scrutiny of decommissioning spending. On a positive note, 2016 was notable for the first reduction in the predicted total cost of decommissioning the NDA’s estate, albeit a marginal one.

2017 promises to be an equally interesting year for the nuclear sector: construction will start in earnest at Hinkley and new leadership will take over at the NDA. There has been continued interest in the development of Small Modular Reactors in the last year and it will be interesting to see if the Government decides to throw its weight behind their development in the coming year.