Tories still back nuclear, insists minister

Harrington denies lack of enthusiasm for nuclear, despite manifesto snub

Nothing should be read into the omission of support for the nuclear industry in the Conservative manifesto, the newly appointed energy minister has said.

Richard Harrington, who was appointed parliamentary under-secretary state at the Department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) a fortnight ago, said the government remained committed to the nuclear sector in a speech today.

When the Conservative manifesto was published last month, green groups seized on the failure to mention nuclear energy.

They said it was a sign that the government’s enthusiasm for nuclear energy was waning in response to growing criticisms of the cost of the Hinkley C station and doubts over which company will deliver the Moorside plant.

However, Harrington, speaking at a Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) conference, insisted this was not the case.

“I wouldn’t read anything into that because we are very much on the record about that,” he said, adding that the nuclear industry “certainly has a big part to play” in achieving the government’s clean growth plan and industrial strategy.

In his keynote presentation at the NIA’s Nuclear Newbuild conference, Harrington also gave further details of the government’s plans to set up its own nuclear safeguarding regime when it withdraws from the Euratom treaty.

He said that the bill will ensure that the Office of Nuclear Regulation can establish a domestic safeguards regime.

And he said the government was also working on a new agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which currently deals with the UK via Euratom on civil nuclear material safeguarding issues.

“We are determined to avoid any interruption to our civil nuclear programme and remain committed to the highest standards of safety, safeguards and support for the industry.”

The minister added that he had been impressed by the work of industry leaders, under NIA chair Lord Hutton, to develop a sector deal as part of the government’s industrial strategy.

“I’ve seen promising ideas over the last weeks that will form the basis of a sector deal including some focus on cost reductions to ensure competition and value for money.”

Harrington added that part of the work of Lord Hutton’s group was to consider the role that small modular reactors (SMRs) can play in a sector deal.

He said that the entries to the delayed SMR competition, which was launched in March last year, had provided valuable insights, but that he could not make a decision on the delivery of competition funds until he had considered the evidence.