Out-Law News 3 min. read

Developers can take confidence from latest UK nuclear policies

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Businesses will feel more confident about exploring options for developing new nuclear power plants in the UK based on fresh policy announcements made by the UK government, an expert has said.

Richard Griffiths of Pinsent Masons, who specialises in planning law affecting major energy and infrastructure projects, was commenting after the government published a raft of revised energy national policy statements (NPS) and a series of other papers detailing its approach to delivering net zero commitments and energy security.

The NPS are documents that guide decision-makers on the application of government policy when determining applications for development consent for nationally significant energy infrastructure under the Planning Act 2008 regime. There are currently six energy NPS in operation – an overarching policy (EN-1) and five technology-specific policies applicable to natural gas electricity generation (EN-2), renewable electricity generation, both onshore and offshore, (EN-3), gas supply infrastructure and gas and oil pipelines (EN-4), the electricity transmission and distribution network (EN-5), and nuclear electricity generation (EN-6).

In September 2021, the government published draft revised energy NPS for all bar EN-6. It has now published updated draft revised statements in relation to the five policies – a consultation on the proposals is open until 25 May 2023.

Read more on UK net zero and energy security


In respect of nuclear, the existing EN-6 governs policy in relation to nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) in relation to nuclear electricity generation deployable by the end of 2025. The proposed new EN-1 is to govern the approach to new applications for nuclear electricity generation deployable after 2025 – large-scale nuclear, small modular reactors (SMRs), advanced modular reactors (AMRs), and fusion power plants are all within the scope of the draft revised EN-1. The government intends to develop a separate nuclear NPS, covering both large nuclear and SMRs, to sit alongside EN-1 for the purposes of shaping decision making on post-2025 nuclear NSIPs.

Griffiths said: “We are still waiting for the revised nuclear NPS, which will provide specific policy considerations for the next generation of nuclear power post-2025. Despite this, the revised overarching policy (EN-1) explicitly states that EN-1 can be relied upon for new nuclear projects, thereby establishing the ‘urgent need’ for such technology in planning terms. This is helpful and provides a level of confidence in the planning system as developers start to look at opportunities.”

Alongside the draft revised energy NPS’, the government also published a series of new papers on ‘powering up Britain’. Michael Freeman of Pinsent Masons, who specialises in the regulation of the nuclear sector, said those papers also contain positive news for the future development of new nuclear generation in the UK.

Freeman said: “There has been demonstrable commitment from the UK government today to ensuring that the UK’s nuclear sector has a pivotal role to play in ensuring the UK’s energy security, and a welcome clarification on how it intends to realise its aspiration of 24GW nuclear capacity by 2050.”

According to Freeman, there was particularly positive news regarding the structure of Great British Nuclear (GBN). UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently announced that the government would establish GBN to “bring down costs and provide opportunities across the nuclear supply chain to help provide up to one quarter of [Britain’s] electricity by 2050”.

Freeman said: “GBN will be the body that will be responsible for driving the delivery of new nuclear projects in the UK – interestingly, operating through British Nuclear Fuels Limited. The government said recently in the spring Budget that the first funding competition GBN would run would be for SMRs and it has now confirmed that the competitive process will kick-off in April with selection of the best technologies for development anticipated in the summer.”

“News of this competition is undoubtedly welcome, but we await further clarification on its likely scope – a similar competition was launched by the former Department of Energy and Climate Change in 2015-16 following a feasibility study to assess the technical, economic and commercial case for the deployment of SMRs, so it will be vital for the government to expand on its proposals in relatively quick order. Further clarification from the government is also needed on the precise role that GBN will play in the development of a UK SMR, in particular its role in funding and strategic siting decisions, so that the route to market for SMR developers is clear,” he said.

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