NNL publishes advanced fuel cycle roadmaps

24 June 2021

The UK must develop advanced nuclear fuels and fuel cycle technologies in order to meet its clean energy ambitions, according to a new series of roadmaps released by the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL). The roadmaps, it says, will enable UK policy makers and industry to plan for the future of nuclear in delivering net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

(Image: NNL)

"The nuclear fuel cycle is crucial to the role of nuclear technology in decarbonising the future energy system. Fuel cycle research, development and demonstration (RD&D) is hence vital to ensure the technology and know-how are available when required; advanced fuel and fuel cycle RD&D could underpin the UK's nuclear ambitions and support the delivery and maintenance of net zero."

In its Energy White Paper, published in December 2020, the UK government identified nuclear power as a way to help the country achieve the four-fold increase in clean electricity generation needed to achieve its net-zero by 2050 target. The White Paper developed the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the previous month, by setting out specific steps the government will take over the next decade to cut emissions from industry, transport and buildings by 230 million metric tonnes, while supporting hundreds of thousands of new green jobs. According to that plan, the government will provide up to GBP525 million (USD700 million) to bring forward large-scale nuclear and invest in the development of advanced nuclear research and development, including up to GBP385 million in an Advanced Nuclear Fund for small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors. This is alongside GBP220 million for nuclear fusion.

Roadmaps for strategic planning

NNL has now released a report - titled Fuelling Net Zero: Advanced Fuel Cycle Roadmaps for a Clean Energy Future - which highlights strategic planning, industry collaboration and government support in the policy, infrastructure and international arenas.

The new roadmaps were developed through the Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme, which is led by NNL in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The new report sets out a pathway to build upon the programme's foundations, identifying opportunities for UK leadership in fuel cycle RD&D.

"The roadmaps identify opportunities to mature key technology areas, ultimately enabling the UK to deploy sustainable fuel cycles, realise significant economic benefits and achieve the delivery and maintenance of net zero," NNL said.

Key opportunity areas

Based on NNL's modelling conducted by Energy Systems Catapult and LucidCatalyst - which explored the diverse, scalable and low-cost applications for nuclear in providing not just electricity but also heat, hydrogen and synthetic fuels - the roadmaps set out two main opportunity areas that the UK would need to evolve to meet its clean energy ambitions. These are: advanced fuel development and advanced fuel cycle technologies.

Developing advanced fuels for current and future reactors will enable the maintenance and development of the UK's indigenous fuel manufacturing capability and ensure that the fuels of the future are available to underpin UK nuclear ambitions, NNL says. Producing the fuels of the future by recycling used fuel will provide substantial opportunities to reduce fuel cycle costs, wastes and environmental impacts, as well as enhance safety, security and resistance to proliferation.

“The new roadmaps will enable government and industry to plan strategically for how we capitalise on the UK's existing capability at the forefront of advanced fuel cycle innovation to deliver the key role identified for nuclear in the Energy White Paper and the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution," said Gareth Headdock, director of Science and Technology & Government Programmes at NNL.

"By taking a strategic approach to the fuel cycle, the UK will ensure it can achieve the nuclear ambitions set out in the government's plans. The pathways described in the roadmaps will support the development and success of this future-focused approach."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News