Energy minister Richard Harrington has branded nuclear power detractors as “naïve and simplistic” as he unveiled a package of measures to support the sector.

Delivering the keynote speech at the Nuclear 2017 conference, Harrington said it was “naïve and simplistic” to take the view that the plummeting cost of offshore wind power meant nuclear was no longer needed.

He said that nuclear power would continue to play an “important role” in the mix of the UK’s energy sources.

“There will be more pressure on nuclear from battery storage but we know that nuclear will be competitive,” he added.

Harrington also announced that the government has kickstarted the process of identifying locations for the next generation of nuclear power stations and unveiled £44 million worth of research and development funding to reinvigorate the government’s stalled mini-atomic power programme.

He said the government is launching a consultation exercise today on siting arrangements for the nuclear plants due to be deployed between 2026 and 2035. which will be the first step in drawing up a new national policy statement (NPS).

The initial consultation will set out proposals for the process and the criteria that will be used to assess potentially suitable sites for 1GW plus nuclear power plants.

“Having a new NPS in place will give reassurance to developers into the 2030s,” said Harrington.

He also announced a three-pronged package of measures on taking forward the small modular reactor (SMR) competition, which was initially launched by George Osborne before he stepped down as chancellor of the exchequer in the summer of 2016.

The minister said that the government had identified a £44 million pot to help SMR developers work up detailed designs for the mini-reactors.

He said the BEIS (business, energy and industrial strategy) department is setting up an expert finance group to identify barriers to investment in SMRs and how they might be overcome. The group would be submitting a report by next spring

And he said that the government had provided £7 million in the clean growth strategy to help regulators develop a licensing framework for SMRs.

Harrington also used his speech to welcome the publication of proposals by the Nuclear Industry Council for a sector deal, which has identified ways of driving down costs.

Responding to Harrington, Nuclear Industry Association chief executive, Tom Greatrex said:

“The UK nuclear industry welcomes the government’s package of announcements today. We share the desire expressed by Richard Harrington to finalise agreement on the ambitious proposals for a nuclear sector deal which the Nuclear Industry Council has put to government.

“The series of commitments made today are relevant to fusion, advanced technology, modular reactors, large scale new build and innovation in fuels. While there is more to do in some of these areas, the overall package is nevertheless a strong signal of commitment to and confidence in an industry that is integral to supplying the low carbon, secure and reliable power system we need for the future.

“There are real opportunities for the future in innovation and advanced technology which can help meet our climate commitments, while providing jobs, growth and economic opportunities for UK companies at home and abroad.”

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