A report published by the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on 2 May, “Nuclear research and technology: Breaking the cycle of indecision”, says it is "critical" for any incoming British government to set out a decisive future for the industry. "We have reached a critical moment for the future of the United Kingdom as a serious nuclear nation, it warns, adding: "The undoubted potential of the civil nuclear sector has been blighted by the indecision of successive governments."
The report says nuclear is a long-term industry and that changes in direction in successive governments' policies and periods of lack of clarity have had "a detrimental effect" on its development, particularly with respect to civil nuclear generation over the last 20 years. The report makes a number of recommendations for the new government that will take over after the June general election.
The government must make the "overarching" decision about the UK being "a serious player in developing nuclear generation technology, whether as a designer, manufacturer or operator, or to restrict its interest to being an operator of equipment supplied by others from overseas". Once it has made the decision, the report says, "other strategic decision will flow" to define clear objectives and timescales for the country's nuclear industry.
Committee chairman, John Roundell Palmer, said: "We also found that the amount of UK funding for nuclear research, development and innovation is much lower than public funding levels in other leading nuclear nations, including the US, France and Japan. If the government's aim is for the UK to be active across the main areas of nuclear R&D it needs to make significant investments in new technologies or we risk falling behind the rest of the world."
The report notes that the government's failure to make a decision on its strategy for small modular reactors (SMRs) "is a prime example of its inaction in the civil nuclear arena". It adds: "Not keeping to the stated timetable for the SMR competition has had a negative effect on the nuclear sector in the UK and if the government does not act soon the necessary high level of industrial interest will not be maintained."
Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) CEO Tom Greatrex said the industry shares the committee's "frustration" with the SMR competition. "With a potential global market for SMRs valued at GBP250-400bn ($323-517bn), the government must provide clarity as soon as possible after the general election if the energy, industrial and export opportunities of a UK SMR are to be realised."
NuScale Power's chief commercial officer and managing director for the company in the UK and Europe, Tom Mundy, welcomed “the committee's call for the government's SMR strategy to be published, setting out what the next steps will be to make SMRs a reality for the UK." He said a "clear direction" on SMRs from the government is needed.