Japan and UK reaffirm co-operation on HTGRs

12 September 2023

The UK National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) have strengthened their existing co-operation by signing a memorandum of co-operation and memorandum for collaboration in the field of High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactors (HTGRs).

Since 2001, JAEA and NNL have been co-operating on the areas of nuclear fuel cycle and radioactive waste management as well as advanced reactors. The agreement was renewed in April to extend the co-operation for another five years.

In 2022, the UK Government decided to focus its Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) R&D programme on HTGR technology and in December announced funding of £60m ($75m) to support development of a demonstration project. Six bidders were selected for pre-FEED (Front End Engineering Design) studies for reactor demonstration and fuel demonstration. NNL received £497,495 for a joint project with JAEA and Jacobs to leverage a proven HTGR baseline from Japan and adopt an innovative approach in its design, build, construction and operation. NNL also received £250,000 for a project to deliver a domestic commercial fuel supply starting with the first fuel load for the HTGR demonstration.

Phase B of the UK programme, which continues until 2025, is "an open, competition-based programme designed to produce up to two HTGR FEED mature enough to enter regulatory review, carry out associated research and development activities. This aims to produce robust delivery plans for a potential Phase C, which will see the licensing, construction and operation of an HTGR in the early 2030s.

In July, the UK Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ) selected NNL and JAEA as one of the candidates to implement the Phase B supported by funding of £31m. DESNZ announced that Phase B would also seek development of an advanced fuel required for AMRs, through the Coated Particle Fuel (CPF) – Step 1 Programme. NNL, working with JAEA, has been selected by DESNZ to deliver this fuels programme which will build expertise, knowledge and collaboration on coated particle fuel fabrication and scale-up activities.

The latest memoranda will enable the continued co-operation between NNL and JAEA both in the deployment of HTGRs and in the development of AMR fuel. UK Secretary of State for Energy Security & Net Zero, Claire Coutinho said the agreement “will see greater collaboration with our Japanese partners to accelerate next generation technologies like Advanced Modular Reactors and take nuclear to the next level”. NNL CEO Paul Howarth said: "Our joint decades of experience enable us to accelerate the design of these new reactors and fuels building on the UK's experience in gas-cooled reactor technology."

Japan’s Minister of Economy Trade & Industry, Nishimura Yasutoshi noted that both Japan and DESNZ had decided to provide policy support for the UK-Japan HTGR joint development project “that is expected to contribute to decarbonisation not only in terms of power generation but also in terms of hydrogen and heat use”. JAEA President Masanori Koguchi said: “No single country is able to address such tremendous challenges alone. I believe that international co-operation among like-minded states such as the UK and Japan is crucial to maximise the commercialisation of nuclear energy research and development.”

The Memorandum of Co-operation noted that NNL and JAEA had completed Phase A of the UK Advanced Modular Reactor Research, Development & Demonstration Programme and wished to collaborate on Phase B (the Reactor Programme) as well as on the UK Coated Particle Fuel Programme, Step 1. Areas of co-operation would include:

  • R&D on HTGRs, aiming for the deployment of HTGRs in both Japan and the UK;
  • R&D on coated particle fuel for HTGRs, aiming for the deployment of a commercial scale fuel production facility for HTGRs in the UK;
  • R&D on hydrogen production technologies using high temperature heat from HTGRs
  • R&D on safety of HTGRs, especially licensing approach;
  • Investigation on the potential diversified use of HTGRs, including heat and power provision for industrial processes;
  • Study on the economics of HTGRs, including market analysis, economic assessment, business model, etc;
  • Study on the nuclear supply-chain, especially relating to the proceeding development and deployment of HTGRs in both Japan and the UK: and
  • Human resource development for steady progress on development and deployment of HTGRs.

This would involve:

  • Information exchange and discussion on the topics related to licensing among the participants and regulatory authorities in the UK;
  • Information exchange and discussion on the potential diversified use of HTGRs, including heat and power provision for industrial processes, among the participants and industrial entities as candidates for end-users of HTGRs such as chemical companies, steel making companies, cement companies, etc. in both Japan and the UK;
  • Organisation of seminars, workshops, training courses and other relevant activities which will provide benefit to research institutes and industries in each country; and
  •  Building public acceptance in nuclear energy, including promoting understanding of the use of HTGRs for industrial processes.

Image: Signing of the memoranda (courtesy of JAEA)

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