The UK has a long and proud heritage in civil nuclear power. The UK was the first country to successfully develop, deliver and safely operate nuclear power stations, meeting all the scientific, technological and industrial challenges that this involved.
It currently has an ambitious programme to add more than 20GW of new nuclear power by 2030 (per DECC) based on advanced large nuclear reactors driven in part by the need to meet binding carbon targets at an affordable cost and ensuring security of supply. In the words of the DECC Secretary of State, Amber Rudd in a speech delivered in November 2015, “New nuclear, new gas and, if costs, come down, new offshore wind will all help us meet the challenge of decarbonisation”.
Interest grows in smaller units
With nuclear firmly seen as part of a diverse energy mix, there is growing interest in small and simpler units for generating electricity from nuclear power, and especially for process heat – for example in district heating solutions that currently use fossil fuels. This interest in small and medium nuclear power reactors is driven both by a desire to reduce the impact of capital costs and to provide power away from large grid systems.
There is already an almost bewildering array of small modular reactor (SMR) technologies being developed, from the more mature and well known Pressurised Water Reactor technology to more ‘exotic’ High Temperature Gas Reactors with vendors and technology developers from countries such as the US, France, China, South Korea and indeed the UK.
The SMR roadmap
The Chancellor announced in his budget speech on 16th March 2016 that the Government is launching the first stage of a competition to identify a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) to be built in the UK, and will publish an SMR delivery roadmap later this year. It will also allocate at least £30m of funding for R&D in advanced nuclear manufacturing.
The economic case for SMRs in the UK is still a work in progress with issues such as timing for when these might be on stream in a commercially widespread way and the current perception that costs may not be much lower in £/Mwh terms than large nuclear plants given all the fixed costs around safety and security.
Why build SMR instead of buying?
Add to this the uncertainty on what the UK energy market will look like by say 2030 in terms of commercially viable large scale energy storage systems, further growth in renewables at lower cost, and up to potentially 15GW+ of interconnection in the GB market, and thus impact on SMR deployment.
So is there a case to develop a ‘UK’ SMR? Why not just ‘buy’ a SMR from this global offering, much like a gas fired plant or a wind turbine? And how should the UK go about developing a UK SMR?
In this short paper, we examine these issues further and present a potential way forward on developing a ‘made in the UK SMR’.