UK National Nuclear Lab moves to the fore

19 December 2013

Two recent announcements of government funding demonstrate that the National Nuclear Laboratory will take a key role in the UK's nuclear power development plans.

The UK government has announced plans to provide around £5 million to the UK National Nuclear Laboratory to commence the process for commissioning Phase 3 of NNL's Central Laboratory on the Sellafield site in Cumbria. Phase 3 is a suite of world-leading, heavily-shielded 'hot cells' able to handle in safety the most radioactive specimens on the planet. After each piece of work, an individual cell can be removed and cleaned ready for the next task, thus preventing any buildup of background contamination, which can hamper accurate analysis.

Separately energy and business minister Michael Fallon announced £8 million to establish a Nuclear Fuel Centre of Excellence (NFCE). This money will provide shared equipment at NNL's facilities in Preston and Cumbria and at The University of Manchester's Dalton Nuclear Institute. The new Centre will work with fuel manufacturers and others to play a leading role in the optimisation of current fuel designs and the development of advanced fuels for new reactor systems.

Furthermore, the UK government has announced the formation of a Nuclear Innovation and Research Office (NIRO), following an action plan from the UK Government's Nuclear Industrial Strategy published earlier in the year.

NIRO is hosted within the UK National Nuclear Laboratory and is the body responsible for providing advice to Government, industry and other bodies on R&D and innovation opportunities in the nuclear sector under the guidance of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB).

Collectively NIRAB and NIRO have a remit to:
Advise Government and industry on nuclear innovation and R&D into future nuclear energy technologies,

  • Coordinate UK involvement in international nuclear programmes,
  • Ensure public R&D programmes align with industrial and energy policy aims
  • Explore how funding can be secured, not only from Government, but also from the private sector, EU and other international organisations and programmes related to future nuclear energy systems, and
  • Review at regular intervals the status of UK nuclear innovation and R&D.

Initially NIRO comprises a small core team based in NNL's Warrington office, which will be supplemented by secondees from across the nuclear sector (Government, industry and academia) as required. Gordon Bryan is appointed as the Director of NIRO with immediate effect.

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts said: “The UK has a strong nuclear industry and a long and impressive track record in nuclear science, technology and innovation. Through our nuclear industrial strategy we are working in partnership with industry to build a successful future. The Nuclear Innovation and Research Office has a critical role in helping to coordinate R&D and ensuring we are well placed to grasp commercial opportunities."

NNL has facilities at Sellafield and Workington in Cumbria, Preston in Lancashire, Risley in Cheshire, Stonehouse in Gloucestershire and Harwell in Oxfordshire.

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