In the last few months, there has been more positive news flow for the nuclear industry than anyone has seen in years. Having spent a sizeable chunk of my career in the uranium sector, it is deeply gratifying to see governments waking up to what we’ve been saying for years: the world cannot meet its clean energy targets without the growth of nuclear energy. That said, even I have been surprised by the speed at which action is being taken, and by the potential scale of growth that we as an industry could be looking at over the coming years.
The source of some of this news has also been a very pleasant surprise. For years, widescale nuclear expansion has been a predominantly Chinese story. Yes, other countries have been pursuing programs of varying ambitions, but in terms of new reactors being approved, constructed, and connected to the grid, China has been leading the way. What has been particularly pleasing is to see nuclear being embraced by an area of the world that has seen little in the way of nuclear growth for many years. I am of course talking about Europe and the UK. To underscore my point, I thought it would be helpful to highlight a few of the more recent news items.
The UK government has stated that nuclear will form the backbone of the country’s energy policy going forward, and it plans to approve eight new reactors by 2030. The Prime Minister has even gone as far as to say the UK is going to build a new nuclear power station every year. The fact its most aggressive announcements have come after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might suggest this is a reactionary move but, in fact, the UK has been moving towards this for some time. World Nuclear News has published a piece on the UK’s plans for rapid nuclear expansion, and also one on the provision of funding to encourage new builds.
France is of course a massive generator, consumer, and exporter (to Germany among others) of nuclear energy. However, the question of its continued dominance of nuclear in the French energy mix was, for some years, in limbo. State-controlled EDF is carrying a significant debt load, and is facing substantial costs to maintain some of its older reactors. Finally, the French government under the leadership of recently re-elected President, Macron, has made a decision to the tune of six new reactors, followed up to eight more, and will push forward with SMR development.
One excerpt from the WNN article is as follows: “In the coming decades France must produce more carbon-free electricity, because even if it reduces its energy consumption by 40%, the exit from oil and gas within 30 years implies that it will replace part of the consumption of fossil fuels with electricity. The country must therefore be able to produce up to 60% more electricity than today.”
Macron went on to say that "Key to producing this electricity in the most carbon-free, safest and most sovereign way is precisely to have a plural strategy ... to develop both renewable and nuclear energies."
Poland has previously stated that it wished to build six reactors, connecting the first to the grid in the early 2030’s. To this end, it has just announced receipt of the second of three proposals from vendors. The country currently generates a whopping 73% of its electricity from coal and the government has been clear that the nuclear power stations will be a direct replacement for coal-based energy.
This is just the start
I feel that these programs are just the start of Europe re-embracing nuclear energy. As the news has widely reported, the EU has added nuclear to its green taxonomy, and the one dissenting voice – Germany – is sounding increasingly absurd considering it imports nuclear energy from countries such as France. My belief is that once the first commercial SMRs start being deployed, we will see an even greater surge in nuclear power growth. I’ll be talking more about the latest SMR activity in the next Fission blog post.
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Ross McElroy, President and CEO of Fission Uranium