After 14 years of Tory mismanagement, the UK finds itself bereft of an energy strategy.

This was finally confirmed in the release last week of the Government’s new Nuclear Roadmap. At one level, it’s just the same old, same old, the latest in a very long line of PR-driven, more or less fantastical wishlists for new nuclear in the UK. But at another, it’s a total revelation.

For years, a small group of dedicated academics and campaigners have suggested that the UK Government’s Nuclear Energy Strategy is being driven more by the UK’s continuing commitment to an “independent” nuclear weapons capability than by any authoritative energy analysis. For an equal number of years, this was aggressively rebutted by one Energy Minister after another, both Tory and Labour.

The new Nuclear Roadmap dramatically changes all that. It sets to one side any pretence that the links between our civil nuclear programme and our military defence needs were anything other than small-scale – and of no material strategic significance. With quite startling transparency and clarity, the Roadmap not only reveals the full extent of those links, but positively celebrates that co-dependency as a massive plus in our ambition to achieve a Net Zero economy by 2050.

“Startling” is actually an understatement. Such a comprehensive volte-face is rare in policy-making circles. Every effort is usually made by Ministers to obscure the scale (let along the significance) of any such screeching handbrake turns. That is so not the case with the new Roadmap.

Courtesy of the latest forensic work done by Professors Andy Stirling and Phil Johnstone at Sussex University (who have been absolutely at the forefront of seeking to bring these links into the public domain over many years – often with mighty little support from mainstream environmental organisations, let alone “independent” commentators), chapter and verse of this volte-face can be laid bare. Just a couple of examples from the Roadmap:


  • “Not only does this Roadmap set a clear path for the growth of nuclear fission…it acknowledges the crucial importance of the nuclear industry to our national security, both in terms of energy supply and the defence nuclear enterprise.”


  • “Government will proactively look for opportunities to align delivery of the civil and nuclear defence enterprises, whilst maintaining the highest standards of non-proliferation.”


  • “To address the commonalities across the civil and defence supply chains, and the potential risk to our respective nuclear programmes due to competing demand for the supply chain, the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) is working closely with the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Nuclear Sector.”


And there’s a whole lot more than that! As Andy Stirling has said: “Without any reflection on what this says about previous efforts to suppress discussion of this issue, the Government is now openly emphasising its significance.”


As usual, the UK’s ill-informed and unbelievably gullible mainstream media would appear to have missed the significance of this gobsmacking inflection point. So one can hardly expect them to have grasped its even more significant implications for UK energy strategy as a whole. In every single particular.

Let me briefly unpack some of those particulars:


  1. Nuclear

The new Roadmap reads like an outing to a massive nuclear sweet shop. On top of Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, we’ll have one more big one. And then we’ll have lots of Small Modular Reactors, all over the country. And we’ll have a new fuel processing plant. And a new Geological Disposal Facility – at some much more distance point. And so on and on. 24 fantastical Gigawatts to be designed and delivered by 2050.

The reality couldn’t be more different:


  • We will indeed end up with Hinkley Point C – at a staggering of cost of somewhere between £26 billion and £30 billion, with consumers paying twice as much for its electricity as they will for offshore wind. And it will almost certainly not come online until the end of the decade, 15 years on from the time it was meant to be up and running.


  • We may possibly get Sizewell C, though the Government cannot currently guarantee the required level of investment. So a Final Investment Decision is unlikely before the next Election. At which point, Starmer may come to his senses and kill off this absurd white elephant.


  • We will never get a third big reactor. The economics are literally impossible to justify.


  • We are unlikely to get more than a couple of hugely expensive Small Modular Reactors, at some indeterminate point in the future, even with a new “flexible approach” to planning and financial inducements. Even that may prove to be an illusion. As Professor Steve Thomas has written: “Advocates of Small Nuclear Reactors claim they are cheaper and easier to build, safer, generate less waste, and will create many jobs compared to existing large reactor designs. These claims are unproven, misleading, or just plain wrong. Worldwide, no commercial design of SMR has even received a firm order yet.”


  • And we may or may not get life extensions for the last five power stations in the “legacy fleet” – subject to regulatory approval, which may not be all that easy given extensive cracking in their reactor cores.


In short, the Roadmap is just a massive diversion from reality. Entailing incalculable opportunity costs. And putting at risk our entire Net Zero by 2050 strategy.

Ministers know all that. But they don’t really care. Our nuclear weapons programme (including upgrading Trident) will be protected as a consequence of this, via an unceasing flow of public money into the civil nuclear cul-de-sac, at a time when our defence budget is already massively overstretched. So who cares about the missing 24GW?


  1. Renewables

We’ll continue to see new investment into renewables here in the UK, despite (not because of) government policy, which has seriously messed up our offshore wind industry, maintained a de facto ban on onshore wind, couldn’t care less about solar, witters on vapidly about tidal without doing anything etc etc.

Meanwhile, on a global basis, renewables continue to boom. Here are a few facts – in contrast to over-excited sightings of nuclear unicorns:


  • More renewable electricity has been generated in the last 5 years (in fact, enough to power the whole of the EU) than the entire output of today’s global nuclear fleet;


  • Overall renewable capacity grew by 50% in 2023, adding a massive 500GW.


  • China added 278GW of renewables in 2023 (more than 50% of the global total) in contrast to a paltry 1.2GW of new nuclear. And China is the most enthusiastic supporter of nuclear new build.


  • According to the International Energy Agency, renewables will generate more than 40% of total global electricity by 2028.


  1. Efficiency


On efficiency, demand management, storage technologies, grid upgrades and so on – this Government has as little to offer today as it did back in 2010. Apart from an entirely disproportionate enthusiasm for Carbon Capture and Storage, its only big new commitment (of £9 billion for retrofit schemes across the UK through to 2030) is £10 billion less than the pledge that Boris Johnson made in its 2019 Manifesto.

There is literally no awareness anywhere in DESNZ that any viable energy strategy to get to Net Zero by 2050 depends as much on efficiency and demand management as on any combination of supply options.


  1. Oil and Gas

Ministers know all that. They know that such a deliberately half-cock approach to the renewables + efficiency + storage + smart grids option can’t possibly deliver what’s needed. So they’ve chosen instead to double down on oil and gas, “maxing out” existing assets in the North Sea, whilst opening up the massive new Rosebank field north of the Shetlands.

Ministers continue to lie, quite brazenly, about the contribution this will make to energy security here in the UK. They know they’re lying, but they don’t care. All independent analysis confirms this hydrocarbon-based obsession will do nothing either for reducing energy bills or enhancing energy security – including a definitive new study by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit which estimates that 99% of oil-based road and aviation fuels used in the UK in 2030 will still come from international sources. Regardless of any new licenses handed out by the UK Government.




  • Our global reputation as a leader on climate change lies in tatters, painfully confirmed by our Prime Ministers pathetic performance at CoP 28 in Dubai;


  • Our chances of achieving a Net Zero economy by 2050 (let alone a 100% decarbonised electricity supply by 2035) dwindle by the day;


  • And, worst of all, any semblance of a fit-for-purpose Energy Strategy has now completely disappeared.


Why don’t people see this?

Why don’t our mainstream media offer any serious critique of what’s going on here?

Why don’t our opposition parties rip to shreds this tissue of preposterous illusions?

The reasons for this almost complete silence can be traced back to successive governments’ grim intent to hang onto our so-called “independent nuclear deterrent”. At literally any costs.

An increasingly anachronistic understanding of our place in the world (with a must-have seat at the nuclear powers’ table) and of what “national security” means, still permeates and contaminates both defence and energy strategies. Everything cascades from that geopolitical illusion at the heart of what the UK aspires to be in this troubled world.

Thankfully, the Tories are now a completely busted flush – come what may. This venal, incompetent, dishonest and increasingly extreme political excrescence will be gone by the end of the year.

But will Labour be any different, given its current embrace of the self-same nuclear fantasies in both energy and defence? Depressingly, I rather doubt it.