UK launches nuclear innovation program

07 November 2016

The UK's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced its commitment of £20 million ($25 million) for an initial phase of a new nuclear research and innovation program. This covers five major themes: advanced fuels; materials and manufacture; reactor design; advanced recycling; and strategic toolkit.

BEIS said on 3 November: "At Spending Review 2015, government committed to invest in an ambitious nuclear research and development program. This funding forms a part of government's wider commitment to double the UK's energy innovation spend, such that by 2021 it will have doubled to over £400 million per year.

"As part of this commitment, over £20 million will be provided to support innovation in the civil nuclear sector across five major areas from 2016-18, building on the recommendations set out by the Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board (Nirab)."

This funding includes: £6 million towards maintaining the UK's leading edge work on advanced nuclear fuels which could provide greater levels of efficiency; £5 million for research that underpins the development, safety and efficiency of the next generation of nuclear reactor designs; £5 million to develop the UK's capability in materials, advanced manufacturing and modular build for the reactors of the future; £2 million to research fuel recycling processes that may reduce future environmental and financial burdens; and £2 million to continue with the development of a suite of toolkits and underpinning data that will enhance government's knowledge basis for future decision making in the nuclear sector, up to 2050.

The deadlines for the procurements are, respectively, 16 December 2016 for those on the website of the Official Journal of the European Union, and 18 January 2017 for the Small Business Research Initiative procurement.

BEIS said: "Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the sun and harnessing this process to deliver clean, inexhaustible energy is the goal of global fusion research. This technology is less developed than fission energy generation technology but is a promising field of research that could have global implications in the future. In addition, there is a clear link between the technologies that support fission and fusion energy research such as robotics, advanced materials and computing that can be exploited for the benefit of the UK nuclear sector as whole."

The UK's fusion research program and contributions to international fusion programs such as JET and ITER are managed by the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Research funding for the UK fusion program is managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Significant step

Last November, the government announced plans to invest at least £250 million over the next five years in a nuclear research and development program including a competition to identify the best value small modular reactor (SMR) design for the UK. The first phase of that competition, a call for initial expressions of interest, was launched in March. It has also announced that an SMR Delivery Roadmap will be published later this year.

Nirab chair Sue Ion said the BEIS announcement "acts on the government's commitment to spend at least £250 million on an ambitious nuclear research and development program over the next five years." She added: "It's a significant step forward for the UK in our drive to be a leading nation at the forefront of nuclear research."

The research into new fuel, advanced manufacturing, reactor design, improved recycling processes and strategic tools aligns with Nirab's recommendations and will "plug gaps in the UK's current activity", she said. "It will begin to equip our universities, national labs and industry with world leading skills and capability and act as a stimulus to national and international collaborative working."

In October, Rolls-Royce announced it had submitted a paper to BEIS, outlining its plan to develop a fleet of 7 GWe of SMRs with its consortium. Other participants in the UK's SMR competition include French-owned EDF Energy and its partner China National Nuclear Corporation, Westinghouse and the US developer NuScale Power.

Tom Mundy, managing director for the UK and Europe at NuScale Power, said the company welcomes the government's "continued commitment to nuclear innovation and interest in the development of small modular reactor technology." He added: "We look forward to the progression of the government's competition, which aims to identify the best value SMR design for the UK."

Industrial strategy

The UK's Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) today called for the government "to work with industry to ensure the industrial strategy has energy infrastructure front and centre", in its submission ahead of the Autumn Statement, due on 23 November.

The Autumn Statement is one of the two statements the Treasury makes each year to Parliament upon publication of economic forecasts, the other being the annual Budget.

Following confirmation in September that the first new nuclear power station in a generation will be built at Hinkley Point C, the NIA statement highlighted the "massive industrial, economic and export potential" that can come from a focus on low-carbon nuclear power to replace retiring power stations, reduce emissions and improve energy security.

Consisting of two European Pressurised Reactors, EDF Enery's 3.2 GWe Hinkley Point C plant will be the first new nuclear power station to be built in the UK in almost 20 years.

Combining business, energy and industrial strategy is "a good start", it said, "but strategy policy now needs to focus on providing the framework for the UK's industrial base to maximise the opportunities to drive jobs, growth and exports in low carbon energy infrastructure, including interest in small modular reactors."

To do this, the NIA has called for four developments.

Firstly, the roadmap for delivery on SMRs, following the Phase 1 competition, "to be released as soon as possible, so industry can capitalise on increasing international interest and for the UK to benefit from the supply chain and intellectual property developed here".

Secondly, "clarity" following the UK's decision to leave the European Union, to give investors in key infrastructure developments "the confidence that a stable policy framework will be maintained to deliver vital new projects that promote growth".

Thirdly, "assurance" that the Levy Control Framework, or successor mechanism, is set for the period beyond the current 2020-21 funding cap, to accommodate Contracts for Difference agreed for further low-carbon energy infrastructure, including new large-scale nuclear power stations at Moorside in Cumbria and Wylfa Newydd in Wales.

These projects belong, respectively, to NuGeneration (NuGen) and Horizon Nuclear Power.

NuGen, a joint venture between Toshiba and Engie, plans to build a nuclear power plant of up to 3.8 GWe gross capacity at Moorside. NuGen will use AP1000 nuclear reactor technology provided by Westinghouse Electric Company, a group company of Toshiba.

Horizon aims to provide at least 5.4 GWe of new capacity across two sites - Wylfa Newydd and Oldbury - by deploying Hitachi-GE UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactors. Established in 2009, Horizon was acquired by Hitachi in November 2012.

Fourthly, "sustained and predictable" funding for decommissioning the nuclear legacy, and maintaining progress made in recent years, while also promoting the country's advanced supply chain and decommissioning expertise in export markets.

NIA Chief Executive Tom Greatrex said: "There is a huge opportunity for the UK supply chain to help deliver vital new low-carbon nuclear infrastructure with the right industrial strategy and policy framework. The government's interest in industrial strategy is welcome, and the new department bringing together industrial strategy with energy policy, is a positive step."

The government's strategy "must not stop at Hinkley", he said, "but focus on the next line of new build developers, who will need to attract investment to build the new infrastructure we need, as well as providing clarity on the policy direction for an SMR program."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News