UK cross-sector report plans zero-carbon hydrogen from nuclear

14 July 2021

A new report published today by the UK's Nuclear Sector Deal’s Innovation Group presents a series of recommendations for realising the opportunity of zero-carbon hydrogen from nuclear energy. Its findings follow a Nuclear Hydrogen Roundtable event, which brought together over 80 experts and industry leaders from across the hydrogen value chain.

The report, Unlocking the UK’s Nuclear Hydrogen Economy to Support Net Zero, is a cross-sector action plan for consideration by the Nuclear Industry Council. It is aimed at offering "maximum value", its authors say, ahead of the UK government’s anticipated Hydrogen Strategy.

"The production of hydrogen from nuclear energy only requires today’s technologies to generate hydrogen with zero emissions," Fiona Rayment, chair of the Innovation Group and chief science & technology officer at National Nuclear Laboratory, says in the report. "Driving nuclear hydrogen production today will de-risk the UK energy transition as we strive for net zero. A cross-sector approach, working collaboratively across the entire hydrogen value chain, will enable us to achieve economic prosperity and global leadership in delivering a nuclear hydrogen economy. The opportunity is enormous and this is the backbone of our action plan."

The report sets out 10 actions for industry and 10 commitments for government. These recommendations are grouped into five areas.

In 'economic', it says appropriate measures should be created now to deliver "an immediate term use case" for nuclear-derived zero carbon hydrogen that will activate the market. Next, support schemes should be established to incentivise the full hydrogen value chain for a range of markets, building on the first use case.

In 'technical', it says the UK supply chain capability should be enhanced to its full potential across the entire hydrogen value chain and capitalise on enormous future export markets for hydrogen based products. Next, funding should focus on innovation to accelerate technology innovation that delivers increased efficiencies and scalability, utilising heat and electricity from nuclear power plants, and includes innovation in demand side technology.

In 'regulatory', innovative regulation and active collaboration between regulators and industry should be driven to enable accelerated deployment of technologies in the delivery of nuclear-derived hydrogen. International collaboration should be enabled to harmonise the UK with international standards, creating an increased export market.

In 'policy', a comprehensive siting strategy should be created that ensures maximum contribution to the 'levelling up agenda' that drives high-skilled, high-value jobs across multiple UK regions. Policy that will embrace the potential for nuclear to decarbonise sectors such as heavy industry, transport (including through synthetic fuels) and direct heat should be enabled.

And in 'finance', a focused effort should be established on communicating the benefits of nuclear hydrogen products to demonstrate the societal value of nuclear-derived hydrogen. And a low (and zero) carbon hydrogen standard should be defined, to ensure consistent access to finance and market mechanisms for all relevant technologies as they come to commercialisation.

"With decades of nuclear experience, the UK sits on a wealth of skills, talent and capability that can deliver nuclear derived hydrogen at scale," Rayment said in a statement announcing publication of the report. "This capability can create the world’s first nuclear derived hydrogen economy, delivering net zero at lower cost to consumers. The UK could spur a future global commodity market for hydrogen, enhancing exports of skills and innovative technology."

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, added: "Nuclear power should be right at the heart of zero-carbon hydrogen production, alongside renewable technology. Nuclear reactors, both large and small, offer the innovative solutions we need to decarbonise sectors beyond electricity as part of a robust net zero mix, starting today and going into the future. The government has already recognised that potential, and we look forward to working with them and other partners to create a strong framework for a nuclear derived hydrogen economy. It is an opportunity that cannot be missed."

Separately, Greatrex responded to National Grid’s newly published 2021 Future Energy Scenarios Report, saying: "National Grid’s scenarios show that we need new nuclear to hit net zero, including replacing existing capacity by the mid-2030s, and expansion thereafter. But to meet the growing demand for clean power, the UK should have even more ambitious targets for nuclear, our only proven source of firm, emissions-free power.

"We should also strive to produce as much of that power ourselves, to safeguard Britain’s energy security. Interconnectors have a key role in stabilising our energy system, but we should not make our road to net zero dependent on other countries’ energy policies. Nuclear investment is a sure path to better jobs, lower emissions, and security of supply."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News