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Insight | Government backs nuclear with £56M for SMRs

Wylfa newydd nuclear power station 3to2
  • Up to £56M announced for R&D into Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) development.
  • £86M announced for British nuclear fusion research.
  • Nuclear sector deal to be complete in early 2018.

The government has backed the UK’s nuclear sector with a raft of financial packages, including up to £56M for research into Advanced Modular Reactors (AMRs).

Speaking at the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) conference in London yesterday, energy minister Richard Harrington revealed that the government would support innovation in nuclear with a £56M investment in research and development (R&D) for Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) technology – a more advanced subset of small modular reactors (SMRs). The funding will help developers’ plans to be taken forward.

“We know that the UK has the potential to become a world leader in developing the next generation of nuclear technologies,” he said as he announced the funding, which will become available over the next three years.

A financial panel has been set up to report to the government in the spring on how barriers to commercial investment in AMRs can be overcome.

At the same time a consultation will be launched to identify future sites for large-scale, single reactor nuclear plants over 1GW set to deploy between 2026 and 2035. It begins the process towards designating a new national policy statement for conventional nuclear power stations, Harrington explained.

“Having this new national policy statement in place will provide reassurance and certainty to developers into the 2030s,” he said.

Details on a nuclear sector deal, which will focus on lowering costs and boosting innovation in the industry, are expected in January.

The announcements came after it was revealed South Korean utility firm Kepco would take over Toshiba’s stake in NuGen, the consortium behind the planned Moorside nuclear plant in Cumbria.

Nuclear energy has come under pressure to justify itself recently as falling prices for renewable energy such as wind and solar have raised questions from some about the future of nuclear power. However, Harrington said that was “naïve and simplistic” and stressed that the government backed a future national energy mix which included nuclear.

“I know the industry faces a big challenge to remain competitive,” he said.

“There is a lot of pressure going to come on nuclear from developments like battery storage, but I know that nuclear can compete, I know that nuclear will compete and it is my job to make sure that government plays a key role in this.”

On research, Harrington pledged £86M to establish the National Fusion Technology platform to continue British research into potential super-fuel nuclear fusion at the Oxfordshire Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. The centre currently houses the European JET nuclear fusion programme.

“Our leadership in nuclear technology is not just about progressing efficient technology, and I want to see us maintain our global advantage in fusion technology,” he said.

In June the government pledged to underwrite its funding commitments to the JET programme up to 2020.

Negotiations to continue smooth trade once Britain leaves EU nuclear body Euratom are progressing well, said Harrington, stressing the UK is seeking to avoid a cliff edge after March 2019.

However, while progress in negotiations is being made on safeguard policies, ownership of special fissile materials and spent fuel, supply contracts remain an issue which has yet to be resolved.

NIA 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.”

He added: “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.”

ANT, AMR, SMR…

  • The government now uses the term “Advanced Nuclear Technologies” (ANT) as a broad, umbrella term which encompasses innovative nuclear technology, including Advanced Modular Reactors (AMRs) and fusion technology.
  • The term Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) is being phased out as the government believes this is too narrow. SMRs generally fall into two categories: Generation III, which are smaller versions of water-cooled large scale reactors, and Generation IV, reactors that use novel cooling systems or fuels.
  • Advanced Modular Reactors (AMRs) are Generation IV reactor designs which use advanced manufacturing techniques. These are being backed by the government for further development.

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