Nuclear Power Generation Beyond 2025: Consultation begins for a new National Policy Statement

United Kingdom

On 11 January, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) opened a consultation (see link here) seeking views on the proposed policy approach for a new nuclear National Policy Statement (NPS) specific to new nuclear power generation beyond 2025 .

The current nuclear NPS for nuclear power generation (up to 2025), EN-6, was published in 2011 and provides a framework for assessing development consent applications for new nuclear power stations expected to deploy by the end of 2025. It sets out the need for new nuclear energy and provides guidance to the Planning Inspectorate, developers, and the Secretary of State in their consideration of applications.

The purpose of the newly announced consultation is to begin the process towards designating a new nuclear NPS (EN-7), which will be applicable to nuclear power stations expected to deploy beyond 2025. EN-6 is not intended to be withdrawn, as it will still be relevant to applications for development consent for sites listed in EN-6 which are “capable of deployment by the end of 2025”, and it will continue to be a material consideration for planning decisions for nuclear power stations under Section 105 of the Planning Act 2008, irrespective of whether they will deploy by the end of 2025.

This consultation focuses on the overall policy approach before a further formal consultation on the new draft NPS is launched later this year.

Key policy proposals

In March 2023, the Powering Up Britain strategy emphasised the government’s ambition of achieving up to 24 GW of new nuclear by 2050 through the deployment of civil nuclear power stations. However, with all but one[1] of the UK’s five current generation nuclear power stations due to cease generation by 2028, new nuclear power stations will be needed to meet the UK’s energy and low carbon objectives.

Significant changes in the nuclear landscape since the designation of EN-6, including the likely deployment of advanced nuclear technologies and nuclear fission projects in the next decade, underpin the shift in the new proposed policy approach. Subject to its designation by parliament, EN-7 will be fully effective for development consent decisions on applications for new nuclear power stations, although the government expects EN-6 to remain important and relevant to any decisions for projects at any of the sites listed in EN-6.

As such, most of the criteria that require consideration in the siting of nuclear developments will remain consistent with EN-6. The key changes and policy proposals are outlined below:

  • Broadening the scope of EN-7: The consultation proposes that EN-7 will apply to both Gigawatt (GW) scale nuclear projects (exceeding 1000MW of nuclear capacity), Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) (which typically have a generation capacity below 500 MW) and Advanced Modular Reactor’s (AMRs) which generate both heat and power. Since EN-6 was designated, nuclear reactor technology has advanced significantly; SMRs and AMRs did not have realistic potential for deployment until more recently.
  • Criteria-based site selection: EN-6 designated eight specific sites which were considered potentially suitable for nuclear deployment by the end of 2025. In order to open up more siting opportunities, EN-7 proposes to set out site assessment criteria which developers would use in order to select the most appropriate site for development. In line with the other energy NPSs, this will put the developer at the forefront of site selection and empower developers to assess the suitability of potential sites for deployment based on the site assessment criteria in EN-7. The proposed assessment criteria are broadly similar to the strategic criteria in EN-6 and encompass nuclear safety and security considerations, environmental impacts and operational requirements.
  • Removing deployment time limits: Selection of sites within EN-6 focussed partially on their ability to allow for deployment by the end of 2025. Government has recognised in this consultation that it is important to establish a longer-term pipeline of nuclear developments to support the UK’s nuclear ambitions. It is therefore proposed that EN-7 would not impose any time limits on the deployment of new nuclear power stations. The consultation emphasises Government’s continued recognition of urgently bringing forward new energy projects, with the recently revised Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1) specifically noting that nationally significant nuclear energy projects will have ‘critical national priority’ status. However, it is noted that the “fast pace of nuclear technology development and long lead-time for deploying nuclear projects could be constrained by the inclusion of a deployment deadline in EN-7”.

Next steps

The public engagement and consultation processes set out in the national infrastructure planning regime will continue to apply. The draft EN-7 document will provide further details on how the approach will align with the existing Environmental Impact Assessment process, as well as the proposed Environmental Outcome Reports, which are a potential new system of environmental assessment (see more detail here).

Nuclear reactors that only produce heat or synthetic fuels are not currently classified as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs). The government intends to amend the Planning Act 2008 to broaden the scope of the NSIP definition to encompass these reactors. The government also proposes legislative amendments to include all applications for nuclear generating projects in England, including those which currently fall below the 50MW threshold, within the national infrastructure planning regime.

The closing date for the consultation is 10 March 2024 and it is expected that a draft EN-7 will be published in the subsequent months, taking feedback into consideration. The final nuclear NPS is expected to be published by autumn 2025. This NPS is likely to be a welcome step in the nuclear generation industry as it will provide more guidance and clarity to developers going forward, and offers significantly increased opportunity in comparison with EN-6.

 Co-authored by Netty Yasin