In his Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015 on Wednesday, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced that the UK government was “doubling our spending on energy research with a major commitment to small modular nuclear reactors”. In a document posted on its website, the UK Treasury stated that at least £250-million would be invested specifically in a civil nuclear research and development (R&D) programme.
Britain was once a world leader in civil nuclear technology and reactor design. Lack of new investment in the sector for many years saw this expertise wither away. The intent of the new R&D programme is to revive the country’s civil nuclear expertise and establish the country as a global leader in innovative nuclear technologies.
Part of this will be the launch of a competition – the details of which will be announced early next year – to seek the small modular reactor design that will provide the best value for the UK. This competition will, in turn, lead to the construction in Britain of one of the first small modular reactors in the world.
Companies around the world known to be already developing small modular reactors include NuScale Power, Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox. All of these are US companies, although Westinghouse is part of Japan’s Toshiba Corporation.
South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project, which was also a small modular reactor design, was effectively terminated in 2010, after R9.244-billion had been spent on it (80% of which was taxpayers’ money). China is known to be still working on the PBMR concept.