Nuclear research and technology: Breaking the cycle of indecision Contents

Nuclear research and technology: Breaking the cycle of indecision

Chapter 1: Introduction


1.The UK has long-standing and continuing commitments to civil nuclear energy. There are nuclear wastes to be managed, substantial decommissioning projects are underway and the decision has been made to replace the existing ageing fleet of civil reactors. The Hinkley C reactor is the first step in that process and further reactors are being considered. This was recognised in the Government Green Paper Building our Industrial Strategy which was published in January 2017. It identified the nuclear sector as an important element of the wider industrial strategy.1

Previous work on civil nuclear policy

2.This report should be seen as the latest instalment in the Committee’s work on civil nuclear policy, which has included:

Recommendations in 2011 report

3.In our 2011 report, Nuclear Research and Development Capabilities8 we made the following recommendations to bring about high-level changes in the Government’s approach to nuclear:

Actions following our 2011 report

4.As a result of the Committee’s report the Government drew up a Nuclear Industry Strategy9 and a Nuclear Energy Research and Development Roadmap.10 Instead of setting up an NDPB as recommended by the Committee, the Government set up a time limited advisory board in January 2014, the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB). NIRAB was charged with advising Ministers on the publicly funded civil research needed to underpin industrial and energy policies (including the Nuclear Industry Strategy) and with fostering cooperation and coordination. NIRAB recently published its final report with recommendations for Government11 (see Box 1).

Why we launched this inquiry

5.We decided to revisit our 2011 report to investigate the developments that have taken place since its publication and what more needs to be done to ensure the UK can meet its future nuclear energy requirements.

6.We decided to look specifically at the Government’s strategy relating to civil nuclear energy; the coordination of civil nuclear R&D within the UK; and the upcoming decision on small modular reactor (SMR) designs for the UK.

7.The decision to conduct this inquiry was taken before the publication of the Government’s White Paper, The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union.12 This stated that, when the Government triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union to begin the process of exit, the UK would leave Euratom as well as the EU. As a result of this announcement, we received written evidence relating to the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom and discussed this in oral evidence.


8.In Chapter 2, we analyse the evidence we received on the co-ordination of civil nuclear R&D in the UK. In Chapter 3 we consider whether the UK has a coherent civil nuclear strategy and who should take the lead in delivering this. We consider the role of the newly-constituted Nuclear Industry Council (NIC) and in particular its potential leadership of a possible ‘sector deal’ for the nuclear industry. In Chapter 4 we look at SMRs and urgent decisions relating to these that the Government needs to take. In Chapter 5 we consider the role and funding of the National Nuclear Laboratory. In Chapter 6 we consider the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom.

Working methods and acknowledgements

9.The membership of the Committee is set out in Appendix 1. We issued a call for evidence on 26 January 2017, which is contained in Appendix 3. In February and March 2017 we took oral evidence from 17 witnesses. We received 53 written submissions. A list of witnesses is included in Appendix 2.

10.We would like to thank our Specialist Adviser, Professor Tom Scott, Bristol University, for his expertise and guidance throughout this inquiry.

Government response

11.We carried out the inquiry for this report assuming that the then Government would remain in place until the next General Election which was due to take place on 7 May 2020 under the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliament Acts 2011. About a fortnight before the publication of this report, the House of Commons agreed to an early General Election to be held on 8 June 2017. We expect the new Government to take account of this report.

12.We look forward to receiving the Government’s written response to this report and will seek a debate in the House as soon as possible thereafter.

1 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Building our Industrial Strategy (January 2017): [accessed 20 March 2017]

2 Science and Technology Committee, Nuclear Research and Development Capabilities (3rd Report, Session 2010–12, HL Paper 221)

3 Science and Technology Committee, Nuclear Research and Development Capabilities—Government Response (Session 2012–13)

4 Oral evidence taken on 23 July 2013 and 10 December 2013 (Session 2013–14):

5 Oral evidence taken on 15 July 2014 (Session 2014–15), QQ 1–16 (Dame Sue Ion):

6 Letter from the Chairman, the Earl of Selborne, to the Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP, then Minister of State for Energy, 24 July 2014:

7 Oral evidence taken on 21 July 2015 (Session 2015–16), QQ 1–13 (EURATOM, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Tokamak Energy)

8 Science and Technology Committee, Nuclear Research and Development Capabilities (3rd Report, Session 2010–12, HL Paper 221)

10 HM Government, Nuclear Energy Research and Development Roadmap: Future Pathways (2013): [accessed 21 March 2017]

11 Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB), NIRAB Final Report 2014 to 2016 (February 2017): [accessed 16 March 2017]

12 Department for Exiting the European Union, The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union, Cm 9417, 2 February 2017: [accessed 20 March 2017]

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