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Boris Johnson yesterday ordered ministers to pursue the expansion of Britain’s nuclear energy sector at ‘warp speed’ to reduce dependence on oil and gas imports.

In a significant gear change, the Prime Minister set a target of increasing the share of the UK’s electricity produced by nuclear from 15 to 25 per cent by 2050.

Sources said that, with electricity demand expected to double over the period, it effectively means more than trebling nuclear capacity in the coming years.

It will mean the development of the equivalent of eight major nuclear power stations. 

However, Mr Johnson also wants to fast-track the development of ‘mini-nukes’ which produce only a fraction of the power but could theoretically be installed far more quickly and cheaply.

The PM yesterday held a summit of nuclear industry leaders at No 10 to discuss plans for the rapid expansion of the sector.

But, in the clearest signal yet that Beijing is being cut out of its once prominent role, no Chinese firms were invited to the summit. 

Downing Street said the PM had asked industry leaders for ideas to ‘accelerate rapid progress’ in boosting capacity.

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘They discussed the benefits of scaling up investment and removing barriers facing development, agreeing to work together to help projects become operational more quickly and cheaply.’ 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tom Samson, Chief Executive Officer of Rolls Royce look at a model of a Rolls Royce Nuclear Power plant after attending a roundtable meeting with leading figures from the nuclear energy industry on Monday

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tom Samson, Chief Executive Officer of Rolls Royce look at a model of a Rolls Royce Nuclear Power plant after attending a roundtable meeting with leading figures from the nuclear energy industry on Monday

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tom Samson, Chief Executive Officer of Rolls Royce look at a model of a Rolls Royce Nuclear Power plant after attending a roundtable meeting with leading figures from the nuclear energy industry on Monday

Mr Johnson, Kwasi Kwarteng, Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, Helen Whatley, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Mr Samson in Downing Street on Monday

Mr Johnson, Kwasi Kwarteng, Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, Helen Whatley, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Mr Samson in Downing Street on Monday

Mr Johnson, Kwasi Kwarteng, Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, Helen Whatley, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Mr Samson in Downing Street on Monday

The target will be included in the Government’s delayed energy security strategy, expected to be published next week.

A Whitehall source said ministers were also exploring the option of establishing a state-owned nuclear power company which would take stakes in new plants. 

The source said the venture could carry out the extensive preparation work needed for a site, with the construction of the reactor itself left to private sector companies from countries including the United States, France and Japan.

The Treasury is also examining the case for a post-Brexit change in investment rules that would make it easier for pension funds and insurance companies to plough money into the construction of long-term infrastructure projects, including nuclear sites in the UK.

Yesterday’s summit was attended by a number of major financial institutions with tens of billions of pounds to invest, including Legal and General, Aviva and CPP, which ministers hope will help plug the gap left by Chinese investment.

The 25 per cent target marks a massive turnaround for an industry that had been left to wither on the vine by successive governments. 

Neglect by previous administrations means that only one of the UK’s existing nuclear sites will still be producing power by the end of this decade.

China was once seen as a major partner for the development of future nuclear projects in the UK. 

Beijing is helping to finance the first new nuclear power station in the UK for more than two decades at Hinkley Point, in Somerset.

China had also been expected to help fund the construction of a planned reactor at Sizewell, in Suffolk. 

And ministers had indicated it would be permitted to install one of its own design at a site in Bradwell, Essex.

But Whitehall sources confirmed China is being eased out of the sector due to concerns about the security risk of involving the communist state in the UK’s critical national infrastructure. 

Chinese telecoms firm Huawei is also now being cut out of the UK’s 5G network.

Attendees at yesterday’s summit included French energy firm EDF, American nuclear specialist Westinghouse and Japanese giant Hitachi.

The nuclear push is part of a wider strategy to reduce reliance on foreign oil and gas imports in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. 

What is Boris Johnson proposing and how will it be achieved? 

What’s the state of the UK nuclear industry?

Britain has 11 operational nuclear reactors producing around 15 per cent of the country’s annual electricity output. 

Out of these, ten will go out of service by the end of the decade. One more is currently being built at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

What is Boris Johnson proposing?

The Prime Minister is setting a new target to produce 25 per cent of UK electricity from nuclear by 2050. 

It is more ambitious than it sounds because electricity demand is forecast to double in that time as things such as cars and heating systems increasingly switch to electric power.

How will this target be achieved?

The target would require 20 new power stations with the capacity of Sizewell B in Suffolk, or eight with the output of the new Hinkley Point C. The PM is also interested in mini-nukes – modular reactors developed by Rolls-Royce.

What is driving the push for nuclear?

Nuclear power was neglected for years under successive governments. 

But near-zero carbon emissions have seen renewed interest in a technology that could mean the future ‘baseload’ supply is able to keep generating when renewables such as wind and solar are not operating. 

Nuclear reactors could also meet the PM’s goal of increasing the UK’s self-sufficiency in energy.

How will the proposal be paid for?

Ministers are quietly reducing Chinese investment amid fears about allowing Beijing a role in UK critical national infrastructure. 

A Government-backed firm could see taxpayers pick up part of the bill for site preparation work. 

A post-Brexit change in investment rules for pension funds and insurance firms is being considered by ministers. 

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Source: Daily Mail

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