19 August 2021

To level up we need to go nuclear

By John Stevenson MP

Over the course of the pandemic, there is no doubt that some regions have been hit harder than others. Our commitment to level up the UK is more urgent than ever.

Turning words into action, however, is difficult. But if we are to deliver the two million new high-quality jobs in clean growth which we promised in our 2019 manifesto, decisions need to be taken quickly to have an impact both in this Parliament and for the rest of this decade.

This means starting with industries that are both located across the country and have the potential to grow. Investment in new nuclear ticks both of these boxes.

Of the nearly 60,000 jobs in the nuclear industry, over 40% are in the north-west alone. The Government’s Green Jobs Taskforce last month stated that, when it comes to clean growth, nuclear has one of the largest job opportunities of any industry. With the industry established in the north of England, these are exactly where these jobs will come. In Cumbria alone, 12,000 jobs are directly within the nuclear sector.

So I am pleased that Hinkley Point C (HPC) has revived what was fast becoming a dying industry in the UK. Over the last five years, highly skilled jobs across the nuclear supply chain have again been built up – 3,600 businesses from across the country are in the HPC supply chain, with a total of 71,000 projected jobs to be supported by the project. As construction nears completion, these workers will begin to demobilise and look for what’s next. What a waste it would be if we don’t capitalise further on the investment we have made in these people and skills.

There is an obvious answer – build a second station at Sizewell C. As an exact replica of Hinkley Point C, it is ready to go. It will create 70,000 clean growth jobs giving us a clear step change contributing towards our 2 million clean jobs manifesto commitment.

The Government has already committed to bring one large-scale nuclear power plant to a Final Investment Decision this Parliament. But why wait until 2024? Swift action taken now will enable the transition from Hinkley Point C to Sizewell C to start now. Contracts can be signed and commitments made. With more certainty, supply chain businesses will buy new machinery and equipment and expand their workforce as they get ready to start. Approval will trigger jobs and investment across the country.

This case has been made already by dozens of leading nuclear suppliers from across the country. Having recently met with a group from the Sizewell C Consortium – made up of over 200 businesses – they highlighted to me the importance of getting on with it. Indeed, their commitment to levelling up has been made apparent already by the £7.2bn of Memorandums of Understanding they have signed across the country, including in the north of England and in Wales. This is a vast sum of money waiting to be spent on our regions.

Not only will Sizewell C mean jobs and investment in the short-term but it will also see the groundwork laid for future clean nuclear technology. From Small and Advanced Modular Reactors (SMRs and AMRs) to hydrogen and direct carbon capture, what we do now with new nuclear will enable these future industries to also take a giant leap forward. It’s not a case of choosing one or the other. It’s a case of all of them working together as a British nuclear supply chain.

Giving the go ahead to Sizewell C will unlock vast opportunity – from jobs and investment across the country to technology that will drive the UK forward on its journey to net zero.

As we host COP26 in just over three months’ time, giving Sizewell C the green light will put a marker in the sand, highlighting the UK’s commitment to clean growth. It will also make clear that the Conservatives are committed to a long-term vision for the UK which, after months of reacting to case numbers and vaccination figures, would be very welcome news. It will also make sure that the skills and talent we have trained up don’t go to waste – and maybe even open up future sites, including in Cumbria.

To truly level up the UK, we cannot afford to put the ball wide with an open goal gaping in front of us. So let’s get on with it.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

John Stevenson is MP for Carlisle.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.