UK Generic Design Assessment opened to advanced reactors

13 May 2021

The UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 11 May released an updated policy paper on Advanced Nuclear Technologies after the UK government declared the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) open to Advanced Nuclear Technologies and published new Guidance for Entering GDA.

The Generic Design Assessment allows the UK’s independent nuclear regulators – the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the Environment Agency (EA) – to assess the safety, security, and environmental implications of new reactor designs and to provide the confidence that these new designs are capable of meeting the UK’s statutory regulatory requirements.

ONR said that, as regulators of the nuclear industry, EA and ONR were working together to make sure that any new nuclear power stations built in the UK meet high standards of safety, security, environmental protection and waste management. “We are scrutinising new nuclear power station designs thoroughly, making sure people and the environment are properly protected.”

GDA is the first step in this process and regulators will respond to the new guidance from BEIS on the GDA entry process. The new Entry Guidance reflects the work that the nuclear regulators have completed to modernise GDA, ONR noted. “We updated our joint GDA guidance in preparation for this last year, and wait to be invited by government to start regulatory activity.”

The BEIS policy paper says: “Advanced Nuclear Technologies have an important role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy. In the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, and reiterated in the 2020 Energy White Paper, the government confirmed its commitment to developing large, small, and advanced nuclear projects.”

The Ten Point Plan announced the Advanced Nuclear Fund of up to GBP385 million ($544m) to invest in the next generation of nuclear. This includes up to GBP215 million for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) to develop a domestic smaller-scale power plant technology design, and up to GBP170 million for R&D to deliver an Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) demonstrator by the early 2030s. An additional sum of up to GBP40 million will be invested in developing the regulatory frameworks and supporting UK supply chains to help bring these technologies to market.

BEIS said Advanced Nuclear Technologies encompass a wide range of nuclear reactor technologies under development, which share common attributes. They are smaller than conventional nuclear power reactors and are designed to be fabricated in a factory environment and transported to site, reducing construction risk and making them less capital-intensive. Generally advanced nuclear technologies fall into two groups:

  • Generation III water-cooled SMRs, similar to existing NPP reactors but on a smaller scale; and
  • Generation IV and beyond AMRs, which use novel cooling systems or fuels to offer new functionality (such as industrial process heat) and potentially a step change reduction in costs.

The Low-Cost Nuclear Challenge, proposed by a consortium led by Rolls-Royce, aims to develop an SMR designed and manufactured in the UK capable of producing cost effective electricity. An initial GBP36 million joint public and private investment granted in late 2019 has enabled the consortium to further develop their design. BEIS noted that the consortium believes that a UK SMR programme can support up to 40,000 jobs at its peak with each SMR capable of powering 450,000 homes.

AMRs use novel and innovative fuels, coolants, and technologies to generate low-carbon electricity, and take advantage of the same modular-build principles as SMRs. There are a wide range of new reactor technologies under development in a diverse advanced nuclear market across many nations. Many designs have the potential for a range of applications beyond low-carbon electricity generation, including:

  • flexible, load-following electricity generation
  • production of hydrogen
  • direct heat for industrial or domestic use
  • nuclear waste management solutions

The government’s intention to invest up to GBP170m through the Advanced Nuclear Fund to support an AMR demonstration reactor by the early 2030s builds on the previous Advanced Nuclear research funded through the BEIS’s Nuclear Innovation Programme. This includes:

  • up to GBP40m for the AMR Feasibility and Development Competition to accelerate development of promising reactor designs;
  • up to GBP46m for the Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme, led by the National Nuclear Laboratory, to develop the next generation of nuclear fuels and fuel cycles; and
  • up to GBP26m for the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Competition, to help demonstrate advanced manufacturing and construction techniques.

The UK government has commissioned and published a landscape report on the UK’s R&D and Supply Chain capabilities to support AMR technologies, from the National Nuclear Laboratory. This report outlines the AMR market opportunities and actions that could be taken by government and the nuclear sector to support the domestic development and deployment of AMR technologies.

BEIS said the UK has one of the safest and most robust nuclear regulatory regimes in the world, and all nuclear operators are answerable to ONR and EA. Through its Clean Growth Strategy, the government provided up to GBP12 million to the nuclear regulators to build the capability and capacity needed to support and assess advanced nuclear technologies. ONR and EA published their guidance on the Modernised Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process in October 2019.

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