UK updates policy on advanced nuclear technologies

12 November 2018

The UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has updated  its policy paper on advanced nuclear technologies, first announced at the Nuclear Industry Association’s annual conference last December. 

At a “Commercialisation of Small Nuclear in the UK” event held at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry, Energy Minister Richard Harrington gave further information on commitments made in the Nuclear Sector Deal launched in June. The Sector Deal aims to deliver: a 30% reduction in the cost of new-build projects by 2030; savings of 20% in the cost of decommissioning compared with current estimates by 2030; 40% women in nuclear by 2030; and a more competitive supply chain equipped to win domestic and foreign contracts of up to £2.0 billion ($2.6bn) by 2030.

BEIS said on its website that advanced nuclear technologies generally fall into one of two groups. These are Generation III water-cooled small modular reactors, similar to existing reactors but smaller; and Generation IV and beyond advanced modular reactors, which use novel cooling systems or fuels to offer new functionality and potentially a step-change reduction in costs.

"There is a large variety of potential technologies within these groups which range in scale between micro, small and medium scale reactors and which span technology types from conventional water-cooled reactors, to Generation IV reactors using novel fuels and coolants, as well as fusion reactor concepts," BEIS said. "Given this breadth, the government believes that 'SMR', as commonly understood, is too narrow a description for technologies coming forward after the current generation of nuclear power stations. Instead government considers this to be the 'Advanced Nuclear' market." 

In December 2017, the British government set up an Expert Finance Working Group to advise on how small and advanced modular reactor projects could raise investment in the UK. The final report, Market Framework for Financing Small Nuclear, was published in August.
“To ensure that the UK is leading this innovation, we intend to build on recent announcements and set out a clear direction for advanced nuclear technologies in the UK, BEIS said. “The new framework that we are establishing will support advanced nuclear technologies and challenge the industry to bring forward technically and commercially viable propositions that could be developed with private finance.”

BEIS will to invest up to £44 million in the Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Feasibility and Development (F&D) project. Eight organisations have been awarded contracts to carry out feasibility studies as part of phase 1.  

The government and the nuclear sector will work together to establish an Advanced Manufacturing and Construction programme of work to demonstrate new ways of making key, high-value nuclear components, or designing systems or processes. The government will provide up to £20 million (subject to approval) to leverage significant sector investment, starting with a £12 million commitment, but increasing as the programme takes shape.

Gearing up for SMR generic design assessment 

BEIS said the government has provided up to £7 million to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the Environment Agency (EA) to build the regulators’ capability and capacity for future licensing of small and advanced modular reactors. ONR and EA are reviewing and improving the GDA process “to take account of lessons learned from previous assessments and introduce greater flexibility into the process”. 

The aim is that more mature designs of smaller reactors could enter the GDA process from late 2018, subject to the readiness of the individual designs. 

BEIS is working closely with the nuclear regulators on the entry criteria for the GDA. The GDA process for small and advanced modular reactors will open for applications in 2019, with registration for expressions of interest opening before the end of the year.  In preparation for this, BEIS and UK regulators plan to hold a GDA workshop to engage with stakeholders.

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