Trudy Harrison is MP for Copeland and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. Mark Jenkinson is MP for Workington.
Sixty-five years ago, almost to the day, the UK’s first nuclear power station was connected to the grid at Calder Hall on the Cumbrian coast, with the town of Workington the first recipient of that power. It marked a significant moment for British industry and a catalyst for future technological innovation.
Over the years that followed, an expert supply chain was established across the UK. More and more nuclear power stations were built – from Dounreay to Dungeness, Hartlepool to Heysham – and a vibrant industry was built up, supporting jobs, businesses, and communities across the regions.
The heart of the industry has remained here in the North West with nearly half of the 60,000-strong nuclear workforce across the country based here. A breadth of innovation in advanced manufacturing, engineering, and nuclear technology has emerged as a result.
But the future of the industry now hangs in the balance. All but one of the country’s currently operating nuclear plants will have been decommissioned by the end of this decade. There is therefore a need to act.
That is what we – the Conservatives – have been doing. Rather than skirting round the issue, as Labour have done, we have this year embraced new nuclear, looking to capitalise on the construction of Hinkley Point C. The Energy White Paper set out a plan to bring a further large scale nuclear power plant to a final investment decision this Parliament and invest in future technologies such as small and advanced modular reactors.
It demonstrated our willingness to take the tough decisions and set out a long-term vision for the UK. We know what the alternative is with Labour – indecision and delay – and it is little surprise that so many seats turned blue in 2019.
Since the construction of Hinkley Point C began, we have seen an industry that was on its knees revived. Many highly skilled jobs have returned and the social fabric of many communities restored through the opportunities the project has delivered. Over the past five years, a supply chain of 3,600 businesses from across the UK has been supporting the project and over 71,000 job opportunities have been created during construction. The latest projections show that because of the project, around £2 billion will be invested across the North of England alone.
However, as the construction of Hinkley Point C begins to wind down, workers will need a timely transition to another project to ensure the valuable supply chain established in recent years is not diminished. Without a clear plan in place, leading businesses have warned up to 10,000 skilled jobs in the nuclear supply chain could be at risk.
It is therefore contingent on the Government to swiftly deliver on its Energy White Paper commitments and drive forward our vision to level up the regions across the UK by creating highly skilled jobs.
The next clear step in the UK’s nuclear future lies with Sizewell C. Giving the green light – by introducing parliamentary legislation in the autumn – would inject confidence into the UK supply chain, boost levels of investment, and apply the expertise learned at Hinkley Point C, to Sizewell.
Thousands of people here in the North West will benefit as a result – indeed the Sizewell C Consortium last year signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the north of England committing to £2.5 billion of investment and 13,000 job opportunities in the region were Sizewell C to go ahead. This would be levelling up in action. It would also lay the groundwork for the rollout of other clean technologies here in the North West. Small and advanced modular reactors will have an experienced workforce to turn to, while nuclear will also catalyse industries such as hydrogen and carbon capture. And in future, we may see another large nuclear power plant at Moorside.
All these technologies, working together, are needed for the UK to get to net zero. British projects such as these will also help increase our security of energy supply and weaken our reliance on European imports such as Russian gas. As we strive towards our 2050 goal, this is critical.
In October 1956, a few months after Calder Hall was first connected to the grid, it was officially opened by the Queen before a crowd of thousands. It was described as an ‘epoch making moment’ in British innovation and industry. It would be no exaggeration to say that we are now in need of another.
We therefore urge the Government, as we enter the first ever Nuclear Week in Parliament this week, to commit whole heartedly to British nuclear and British technological advancement, which creates jobs, boosts skills, but above all, saves our communities.