Great British Nuclear setup hit by changes at the top of government

Progress in constituting the UK’s new nuclear delivery body, Great British Nuclear (GBR), has been hit by the last year’s revolving door of UK prime ministers, Simon Bowen, who is advising on setting up the body, told MPs on the Welsh Affairs Committee.
In an evidence session on 22 February he said a team of civil servants and advisors were tasked in May with a 100-day ‘sprint’ to produce a report for Boris Johnson, but Johnson had resigned as prime minister when the report was handed in. “It then went in to the Truss Government, and subsequently, prime minister Sunak and chancellor Hunt are now involved in the decision making. We have continued to develop what GBN could look like, and to advise government on what it could look like, but it is a decision for the prime minister and the Cabinet to make.” He said there had been “plenty of words to say it is going to be announced soon.”
Bowen said the government needs to set up a programme of new-build, decide whether it was committing to large gigawatt-scale units, small modular reactors (SMRs) or both, make funding available and commit to taking a major role: “This is a major infrastructure programme and government do need to take a leading role, so the decision needs to be made and it needs to be made quickly.”
Saying that his team was in ”continual dialogue” with both BEIS and its successor Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and “in active conversations” with the Treasury, adding that discussion had been “difficult and protracted” because of the current fiscal environment. But he stressed, “There is no point in setting up an organisation just so that the organisation can work out how it is going to operate, because that does not deliver any outcomes”.
Asked how much funding is needed, he said “It depends on government policy with regard to gigawatt and SMRs, but it is measured in a few hundred million. .. critically, to be able to fund development and to support the projects.”
He said the report had recommended that “in line with international practice in the nuclear space, government have to take a leading role and have to provide funding to support the development of projects, and government have to take some of the risk.” He said, “We cannot expect developers to take the risk on doing all the characterisation work in a site like Wylfa if there is no certainty they are going to get a project at the end of it.” It is very expensive to bring in private investment while there is uncertainty and “the private sector will not invest unless it sees that Government are committed to the programme and that they are also prepared to invest in their infrastructure.”
He said government funding could be of the order of “a few hundred million” in early finding: as to the total, he said “Is it going to be measured in billions across a whole programme? Yes, it will, because it is a major programme, and these projects are very expensive projects”
Bowen also noted that for many of the potential technologies there is no developer with capability, so “We need the capability to initially form a development company within GBN”. The question of whether GBN would eventually be an operator or a utility could not be answered “until we attract other people into the market.”

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