The UK government has reaffirmed its commitment, including research and development (R&D) funding, to the development of small and modular nuclear reactors. It has done so in the Nuclear Sector Deal, developed by Britain’s Nuclear Industry Council in cooperation with government and published at the end of last month. The Nuclear Industry Council is composed of representatives of the manufacturing, engineering and energy industries (including local subsidiaries of foreign groups and trade unions) and science and research institutions.
Also as part of the agreement, the nuclear industry has firmly committed itself to cutting the costs of new-build nuclear projects by 30% by 2030 and to reduce the cost of decommissioning old nuclear sites by 20% by the same date. It has also made a commitment to increase the number of women working in the nuclear sector from the current 22% (15% being women nuclear engineers) to 40%, again by 2030.
“Small modular reactors (SMRs) are part of the advanced nuclear technology sector, which covers a range of new innovations under development,” explained the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in its statement. “SMRs are smaller than conventional nuclear power station reactors and are designed so that much of the plant can be built in a factory and transported to site for construction. “They usually fall into two categories – either water-cooled reactors similar to existing nuclear power station reactors, but on a smaller scale, or advanced modular reactors which use new cooling systems or fuels and potentially offer a reduction in costs.”
South Africa’s former Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, or PBMR, was an advanced modular reactor design. The programme was effectively terminated in 2010, although it might be reactivated.
To date, the British government, has committed up to £56-million for SMR research, development and associated activities. This figure includes up to £7-million to build the capacity and capability of the regulators to assess and licence small and ‘novel’ reactor designs. Another £5-million could be given to the regulators to allow them to support the R&D processes.
Regarding SMR R&D, up to £4-million will serve, in Phase 1, to support detailed technical and commercial feasibility studies by some eight reactor vendors. The subsequent Phase 2 will see up to £40-million awarded to three or four vendors to further develop their designs (subject to a Treasury value-for-money reapproval process).
SMRs are not, however, the only advanced nuclear technologies that will benefit from government financial support for R&D. In January, £86-million was committed to the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s new National Fusion Technology Platform. Initial Commitment Further, subject to a rigorous business case process, government will provide up to £20-million to help fund an advanced manufacturing and construction programme, with industry making an initial commitment of another £12-million. Similarly, the development of a new national supply chain will also be jointly funded by government and industry. Government will provide up to £10-million (again, subject to a business case process); reactor vendors, UK supply chain companies and overseas markets will provide another £10-million, and £10-million will come in the form of contributions in kind.
The nuclear industry’s contribution to the British economy comes to £12.4-billion, and it secures 87 000 long-term jobs in both the civil and defence sectors. Nuclear provides some 20% of Britain’s electricity. “The UK is the home of civil nuclear technology and, with this investment in innovation and our commitment to increasing diversity in an already highly-skilled work force, I want to ensure we remain the world leader,” affirmed Business and Energy Secretary (Minister) Greg Clark. “Nuclear energy not only fuels our power supply – it fuels local jobs, wages, economic prosperity and drives UK innovation.”
Sector deals form a key element in the current British Government’s “modern industrial strategy”, which focuses on research, development, education and training. The Nuclear Sector Deal is the fifth such agreement signed with a British industrial sector.