Publication of UK’s energy security strategy reportedly delayed again, due to Treasury roadblocks

The strategy is now unlikely to come before April

Prime Minister Boris Johnson first confirmed that the strategy was in development on Monday 7 March. At the time, it was promised by the end of the week.

The aim of the strategy is to help the UK reduce its reliance on Russian fossil fuel imports and to build longer-term resilience to global energy price shocks.

Disagreements between Johnson and cabinet ministers over his support for fracking, then for onshore wind, had already contributed to delays. Tabloids had also been reporting that a further contributing factor was Johnson’s desire to confirm a significant new funding package for nuclear power, which the Treasury has allegedly pushed back against.

Now, news outlets including the Financial Times are reporting that the strategy is unlikely to be published before next Monday (4 April). This means it may well come during Parliament’s Easter Recess, which begins this Thursday (31 March) and runs to Tuesday 19 April.

It is reported that the last major remaining roadblock is a disagreement between Number 10 and the Treasury about nuclear power.

Johnson is understood to be pushing for a new target for nuclear power to account for 25% of the UK’s electricity generation mix by 2050, up from around 16% at present. The Treasury is allegedly reluctant to support such a target, given how expensive it is to build new nuclear power plants.

At a committee meeting earlier this month, the BBC is reporting, Chancellor Rishi Sunak was asked whether he was blocking the publication of the strategy and why. He denied “blocking anything” and said: “Given how important it is, I think it is important we get it right… and it is being worked out at pace between all the relevant ministers.”

Nuclear: The state of play

The UK Government is currently supporting both large-scale nuclear generation and small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).

On large nuclear, the Government confirmed £100m of funding for Sizewell C back in January. This support is intended to “ready the project for future investment” from the private sector. It is now reportedly eyeing a 20% stake in the project. 

As for SMRs, the Government has announced a £210m funding pot to further their development, coupled with £250m from the private sector. This money is funding Rolls-Royce’s SMR ambition; the firm hopes to bring 16 470MW units online across the UK by 2025.  For context, each SMR from Rolls-Royce is expected to take some £2bn to deliver.  

Trade bodies and other political parties, including the Labour Party, have pushed the Government to provide more support for both small and large nuclear – particularly as around half of the UK’s existing nuclear capacity is set to be retired by 2025.

Some see more nuclear as necessary for the delivery of the UK’s 2050 net-zero target and interim carbon budgets. Additionally, the UK Government announced last year a new ambition to end unabated fossil-fuel-based electricity generation by 2035.

Others argue that, with the rapidly decreasing cost of renewables, and the fact that renewables do not come with the same toxic waste issues, wind, solar and tidal are better bets than nuclear. The Guardian is this week running an analysis of the state of play with nuclear waste management in the UK.

For edie’s in-depth explainer of everything that is likely to be included in the energy security strategy, click here.

Sarah George


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