The British government announced on Friday that it was awarding funding of £40-million for the development of advanced modular nuclear reactors (AMRs) and associated technologies. This was part of the UK’s programme to develop new and low-carbon industries and energy sources, thereby creating both research and development (R&D) and manufacturing jobs across the country.
Three companies were each awarded about £10-million to develop their AMR projects. Another £5-million was going to strengthen the UK’s nuclear regulatory regime. And the remaining £5-million was being split between about ten companies to fund smaller nuclear-related R&D, design and manufacturing projects.
AMRs are a category of small modular reactor (SMR). Simply put, SMR designs are usually either miniaturised pressurised water reactors (PWRs), the latest iteration of which are called Generation III+ designs, or what are called Generation IV technologies, which use alternative forms of cooling, such as gas or liquid metals. AMRs use Generation IV technologies.
The three companies receiving funding for their AMR projects were privately-held UK company Tokamak Energy (which was working in cooperation with a number of research institutes, including Oxford University, as well as industry partners), U-Battery (a consortium led by the Anglo-Dutch-German major international nuclear group Urenco) and the UK division of US nuclear group Westinghouse Electric. Tokamak was receiving £9 999 999, U-Battery was getting £9 999 195 and Westinghouse £9 998 387.
Westinghouse Electric was developing a lead-cooled fast reactor, while U-Battery was developing a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTR) – South Africa’s effectively abandoned pebble bed modular reactor was an HTR (the U-Battery design is independently developed and different to the PBMR). Tokamak Energy, however, was focused on the most exotic nuclear technology of all: fusion. Not only that, but fusion achieved in a compact installation.
The ten companies sharing the £5-million ranged from startups to established major groups. They were Cammell Laird, Cavendish Nuclear, Createc Technologies, EDF Energy, Jacobs, Laser Additive Solutions, Nuclear Energy Components, Rolls-Royce Submarines, Sheffield Forgemasters and U-Battery. The purpose of this funding was to help develop new methods of manufacturing advanced nuclear parts for modular reactors.
The UK government is also supporting the development of Generation III+ SMRs.