Labour MPs expressed their support for the UK’s nuclear power sector and recognised the role of the energy source in growing the wider economy. Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment Sue Hayman and Shadow Minister for Small Business Bill Esterson both criticised current government energy policy, whilst emphasising the Labour Party’s commitment to a nuclear programme at a fringe event sponsored by the Nuclear Industry Association.
The panel discussed Labour’s position on nuclear energy in light of a speech made earlier by Shadow BEIS Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey that committed the party to providing “60 per cent of the UK’s energy demand from renewable or low-carbon sources within 12 years”.
In 2016, nuclear met over a fifth of the UK’s demand for electricity – the largest single source of low-carbon electricity – and the UK currently has 15 reactors. The Labour Party has committed to supporting “further nuclear projects,” according to its 2017 manifesto, which adds that “there are considerable opportunities for nuclear power and decommissioning both internationally and domestically”.
Hayman and Esterson told the audience that Labour would also look at underwriting the costs of new nuclear developments such as Moorside, a planned nuclear power station in Cumbria that has run into persistent construction delays this year.
“If you do not support further nuclear development in West Cumbria, you are missing a huge trick,” said Hayman. “The skills we have, the infrastructure we have [in Cumbria] and the ability we have to look outwards globally is great. If the government has not recognised that, then it is failing us.”
With the focus of Labour conference on “rebuilding Britain”, the party’s commitment to supporting nuclear to create high-paid jobs and tackle climate change will be part of its approach to an industrial strategy, and will incorporate other renewable sources such as tidal lagoons. “Exciting new opportunities in renewables absolutely [have a role],” said Esterson. “Nuclear is definitely a part of that, and we fully support that as a party going into government.”
Nuclear energy, it was argued, is also popular in plant local communities. Leon Flexman, corporate affairs director at Horizon Nuclear Power said that the firm’s new project in Anglesey – which will provide enough capacity to power ten million homes – is supported by 70 per cent of the local population. “I expected that if the investors wanted to do it, then [we would] go and lobby the community to see if we can get it done,” he said. “It’s felt at times like it’s the other way around: the community really wants this power station.”