Steenkampskraal Thorium Limited (STL), the South African private sector company which is developing its HTMR-100 small modular reactor (SMR) design, is very interested in participating in the British SMR programme this year. HTMR stands for High Temperature Modular Reactor and is a pebble bed modular reactor design (that is, it would use spherical fuel elements, known as pebbles).
Originally announced late last year, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, in his budget statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday, confirmed the country's SMR design programme. "And we're now inviting bids to help develop the next generation of small modular reactors," he said. The HTMR-100 is a Generation IV reactor design.
"We'd like to present our design to the British government," STL chairperson Trevor Blench told Engineering News Online, on the fringes of the Nuclear Africa 2016 conference, on Thursday. "Over the past few years we've been to the UK many times and we've had meetings with DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] and they have shown interest in the past in our design."
STL originally did not believe that SMRs would be appropriate for the UK. The country is highly developed, geographically small and has an excellent electricity grid. But there are other factors driving Britain towards SMRs.
One is the huge capital costs of new build large-scale nuclear power plants, such a Hinkley Point C (being developed by French group EDF). "EDF required a government guarantee of a minimum price to justify the investment," he notes. "And such a minimum price could end up, in the worst case, as a huge subsidy 20 to 30 years from now. The government doesn't want to take any more such risks."
Furthermore, British Parliamentarians have been arguing that the country should develop its new nuclear generating capacity in small components, not large ones. SMRs are ideal for such an approach.
"The UK wants to reduce costs, reduce construction times, and set up supply chains replicating the same reactor design -- five, ten, 20 times," explains Blench. "This would also facilitate the licensing procedure. In the past, most reactors were first-of-a-kind designs, which complicated the licensing procedures. And even though the UK has a good grid, they report that there are still places where there are weaknesses in that grid and where an SMR would provide a welcome boost."
"With nuclear, it's important to move to Generation IV reactor designs, which are melt-down proof and intrinsically safe," he affirmed. "And we believe an HTGR [High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor; the HTMR-100 is an HTGR] offers these characteristics of intrinsic safety."