UK slips behind in the global race for nuclear energy dominance
London, 20 August – The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF) today urged Boris Johnson to respond firmly to China’s increasingly threatening geopolitical power shift by accepting that the government’s prioritisation of wind and solar energy is now standing in the way of an effective and affordable energy system based on natural gas and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
Without moving towards a thermodynamically competent and thus affordable generation of both heat and electricity, the United Kingdom, and the West more generally, will rapidly concede global economic leadership and political dominance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
This is no mere theoretical speculation. In the last few days, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has commenced construction of the first Small Modular Reactor (SMR), based on China’s own ACP100 (Linglong One) Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) design, and with a capacity 125 MW.
Reports predict a 95% load factor, and an annual output of 1,000,000 MWh of electrical energy.
China has some 19 other nuclear power stations under construction.
The degree to which China is dominating nuclear power construction can be gauged from this striking graphic being widely circulated in the industry:
In spite of some encouragement in recent announcements (“Government progresses demonstration of next generation nuclear reactor”), there are concerning signs that Mr Johnson’s government does not fully appreciate either the potential or the urgency of ensuring that SMRs are deployed more rapidly to prevent China from dominating the global market for nuclear generation, as well as reaping the rewards of the cheap energy it will provide to industry.
For example, the government’s Hydrogen Strategy published earlier this week acknowledges the potential for the use of nuclear power for high temperature electrolysis and the probably superior thermochemical routes to the production of hydrogen. However, it simultaneously proposes the creation of an elaborate subsidy mechanism, based on the Contracts for Difference scheme, to support high cost renewable methods producing so called “Green” Hydrogen.
This would in effect provide yet more non-market support for the wind industry, a sector that already costs UK consumers about £6.1 billion a year in subsidy (£1.7 billion to onshore wind; £4.4 billion a year to offshore).
Government has not yet decided on the details of the subsidy scheme, but it seems likely that it will be funded from a levy on natural gas consumption, presenting yet another regressive burden on British households.
The creation of further subsidies in the energy sector is not only undesirable, but also needless. Small Modular Reactor (SMR) designs actually available for construction today have the potential to deliver both warm electrolysis and the very high temperatures needed for the thermal decomposition of water.
Both routes would produce low cost and genuinely subsidy-free hydrogen for use in decarbonised transport and heat, not least industrial process heat where low-cost energy is critical to retaining and expanding industrial manufacturing in the United Kingdom in the face of intense and strategically motivated competition from Chinese firms.
In order for the UK economy to remain competitive and to head off China’s bid for nuclear energy dominance, radical reform of the UK Govt’s unsustainable and self-defeating green energy priority is urgently required.
Dr John Constable, GWPF energy spokesman, said:
The fundamental physics of nuclear energy indicate that it is inherently more productive and thus cheaper than renewables can ever be. It is also low emitting. China’s engineer bureaucrats understand this very well. Mr Johnson’s advisors do not appear to grasp even the basics of the matter.”
Dr Constable is the author with Dr Capell Aris, of the GWPF publication, The Workable Alternative to Net Zero (2021) which proposes a gas to nuclear plan for cleaner, reliable and affordable energy.