UK outlines £200m nuclear sector deal

Article by Adam Duckett

THE UK government has unveiled a £200m (US$262m) deal in partnership with the nuclear industry that seeks to drive down costs, and increase innovation and workforce diversity.

The government will invest up to £44m to develop and deploy advanced nuclear technologies and £126m in research and development to help industry cut the costs of new nuclear build projects by 30% and decommissioning by 20% by 2030.  

This is the fifth so-called Sector Deal launched as part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy, which in January 2017 saw the government commit to a more interventionalist approach that includes supporting sectors that put forward plans for their own development.

Lord Hutton, who co-chairs the Nuclear Industry Council, whose member companies are drawn from across the nuclear sector and helped develop the deal, said: “The industry wants nuclear energy to remain competitive against other forms of low-carbon energy – which is why we are committed to working with government to reduce costs across the sector. Today’s funding boost will support this common goal; increasing the UK’s industrial capabilities as well as signalling our global leadership in nuclear to the rest of the world.”

This includes the development of smaller reactors that could bring down the costs compared to larger traditional reactors by being built in a factory and transported to site – such as small modular reactors (SMRs) that employ similar water-cooled methods used in existing nuclear stations and next generation technologies.

Aimed at the latter, the government will give £4m for eight reactor vendors to carry out detailed technical and commercial feasibility studies for the development of advanced modular reactors that use novel cooling systems or fuels to offer new functionality such as industrial process heat.

The eight chosen vendors include LeadCold, Tokamak Energy, U-Battery Development and Westinghouse Electric, with analysis of their plans expected later this year. A further £40m is earmarked to support as many as four successful vendors to further their designs.

To complement the development of advanced nuclear technologies, there is another £40m to develop a thermal hydraulics facility in North Wales.

Welcoming the deal, Matt Rooney, engineering policy advisor at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said: “The new thermal hydraulics facility in Anglesey will bolster the UK’s nuclear research and development capabilities. Along with the likely construction of the Horizon nuclear power station at Wylfa and the potential for a small modular reactor at Trawsfynydd, North Wales could become a world-leading industrial cluster.”

There are 15 large-scale reactors operating across the UK which generated 20% of the country’s power in 2016. The government noted in its plans that the UK opened the world’s first civil nuclear power station in 1956 and has become one of only a handful of countries to develop an industry that covers the full life-cycle of the nuclear sector from fuel production, generation, decommissioning, waste management and research.

It says the deal will create a further 100,000 jobs by 2021, and has pledged to increase diversity by lifting the proportion of female workers in the sector from 22% today to 40% by 2030.

Greenpeace decried the deal. It’s UK policy director Doug Parr said: "Promises that costs of nuclear power will come down have historically been proved false over the past 50 years.

“Unfortunately for the nuclear industry, most other developed nations have realised that nuclear power is being outcompeted by cheap renewables, and have given nuclear either no role at all, or only a bit part, in their future energy plans. Only the UK government is left clinging on to the old-fashioned dream of ‘cheap’ nuclear power, unwilling to admit that more affordable and reliable power is coming from renewables and smart technology, and without the risks and liabilities that extortionate new nuclear builds create.”

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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