Strategic nuclear development

15 July 2009

Major initiatives for the nuclear supply chain were a part of the UK's Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, released today.


The document places nuclear power development as one of the main parts of the transition to a low-carbon energy system which represents a major opportunity for business. Key in grasping that opportunity, the government report said, is improving skills and capabilities at the hundreds of companies which could be involved in the nuclear supply chain for new reactor projects in the Uk and worldwide.


To do this, a Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre is to be set up with £15 million ($25 million) from government. It will help a consortium of 30 companies gain accreditation to produce nuclear-quality components. There will be cooperation from universities but the initiative will be led by Rolls-Royce, which boasts the biggest nuclear skills base in the UK. The company supplies naval reactors for UK submarines as well as instrumentation and control systems and heads a supply chain of its own that counts 260 firms. Not counting military-related work, the civil nuclear sector employs some 40,000 people.


Another initiative could be to map out the supply chain in detail and identify areas where UK companies have the potential to become world leaders. Supply chain bottlenecks are also to be targeted with capacity for the ultra-large forgings required for reactor pressure vessels specifically named by government. Sheffield Forgemasters has asked for government help to install a 15,000 tonne press for this purpose but told World Nuclear News today that no decisions had yet been made and 'not to expect any announcements until August'.


The nuclear power industry is currently worth about $50 billion per year, with this set to escalate to $82 billion per year by 2023 according to Rolls-Royce, which launched a major push for more involvement in civil nuclear last July. The UK government has calculated that maintaining Britain's 17% of nuclear electricity as old plants retire will cost $35 billion over the next ten years, although plans currently under development by EDF Energy and an RWE-EOn collaboration could actually see nuclear make up 35% of power.


After pioneering nuclear energy and building two generations of own-design gas-cooled reactors, the UK scaled back its research into advanced reactors and eventually allowed pro-nuclear polices to lapse into apathy. However, the reality of climate change and the need to replace about one third of large-scale generation has brought a remarkable resurgence of pro-nuclear sentiment in government to the point that UK leaders are among the most vocal in support of nuclear energy.


Aside from the £15 million towards nuclear development, the strategy includes £120 million for offshore wind, £60 million for wave and tidal power and £10 million for ultra-low carbon vehicles. The official UK policy on nuclear power is that it is in the public interest for it to be available and so, "Whilst it is for energy companies to invest in new nuclear power stations, government will do what is appropriate to facilitate this investment."