Government recently published the Nuclear Sector Deal. Government – in partnership with the Nuclear Industry Council – developed the Deal to meet the Clean Growth Grand Challenge set out in the Industrial Strategy.  The Sector Deal’s vision is for “a UK nuclear sector that generates reliable, secure, low-carbon power” at a competitive cost with other low-carbon energy technologies.

The Deal is comprehensive in its approach and ambition. By 2030, it wants to achieve a 30% reduction in the cost of new build projects, savings of 20% in the cost of decommissioning, 40% women in nuclear industry and up to £2bn domestic and international contract wins.

Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association – “It remains the single largest source of low carbon electricity – providing more than 20% of the power the country generates for homes, businesses and public services.” 

And though nuclear is one part of the UK energy mix and has been a reliable, secure and low carbon contribution for 60 years, the public still has concerns about safety and how to manage past and future radioactive waste for the long term. Could the question of public acceptance undermine the whole nuclear strategy?

The Nuclear Sector Deal commits Government and industry, working together, to develop and deploy advanced nuclear technologies, invest in nuclear research and development and support a diverse and skilled workforce. To improve our UK nuclear infrastructure, Government and industry will review financing options and target cost reductions, both in new build projects and the decommissioning of the country’s ageing assets.

New ideas and innovation will be crucial in developing our technology, improving our productivity, ensuring cost reductions and maintaining our best-in-class nuclear skills and capacity.

However, the nuclear sector faces another challenge – how to improve the public’s perception of the industry and its crucial role as a viable part of the energy mix. The 2018 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Energy and Climate Change Public Attitude Tracking Survey revealed that 38% of respondents support nuclear electricity generation, while 62% were either opposed or undecided.

Why should Government and industry focus on public acceptance and support? There are huge economic opportunities for the UK as a whole and for local communities. The UK is one of only a few countries with a nuclear industry covering the full life cycle of fuel production, generation, decommissioning, waste management and research. The nuclear industry has provided highly skilled jobs and has benefited the country as a whole and the host communities of nuclear facilities for many years. It has provided more than 64,000 highly skilled jobs– equivalent to the entire value of the UK aerospace manufacturing sector – and generates £6.4bn in GDP each year.

To overcome the negative public perception and gain support, government and industry should engage more effectively. This will not only require collaboration and partnership working across industry and Government, but most importantly Government and industry working in partnership with local government, businesses and communities.

How does Government and industry engage more effectively? By listening and exploring communities’ concerns and contentious topics early in a project. This will improve perception issues and manage potentially more difficult conversations that may occur later in the process. Most importantly, younger people should be engaged more widely since this is a future and new generational challenge.