The UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) said on 8 June that it was proud to launch its Strategic Plan, which sets out how NNL is benefiting society through nuclear science. The plan includes “details of the scale of our necessary ambition and commitment” to help to solve global challenges in four strategic areas: clean energy, health and nuclear medicine, environmental restoration, and security and non-proliferation.

“This is a programme of work that, in addition to helping the UK meet net zero by 2050, will deliver on the government’s agenda of making the UK a science superpower whilst bringing high-skilled jobs to the North West and contributing the economic recovery from the impact of the global pandemic.”

NNL CEO Dr Paul Howarth said: “Whether it is accelerating a UK demonstration programme for Advanced Modular Reactors or delivering our first indigenous supply of medical radioisotopes since the 1960s, NNL will be at the forefront of game-changing advances that will help to transform the environment and people’s lives, now and into the future.” He added: “At a time when society is waking up to acting on the environmental crisis our planet faces, it is impossible to overestimate the scale of the challenge ahead for the UK in reaching net zero by 2050. Without nuclear, the UK will not meet this target on time. And without NNL’s work, the UK nuclear sector cannot deliver what is required.”

NNL says the nuclear landscape has changed. “With a legally binding commitment in the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, and more than 120 other countries moving towards the same target, existing and emerging nuclear technologies offer financially and environmentally affordable solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Our strategy has evolved to meet the needs and opportunities of the new landscape, unleashing innovation across the whole of the UK’s nuclear sector.”

NNL has created a new agenda based on its four focus areas:

  • Clean Energy – securing the UK’s place as a global leader in the clean energies of the future by developing advanced nuclear technologies and leading their deployment.
  • Environmental Restoration – driving a step change in the way legacy and future wastes are processed by applying innovative science and breakthrough technologies.
  • Health and Nuclear Medicine – establishing an indigenous UK supply of vital medical radioisotopes.
  • Security and Non-Proliferation – facilitating the global deployment of new nuclear technologies by ensuring security and non-proliferation.

NNL has refreshed its science and technology agenda to meet its aims based on three pillars:

  • Core Science: 12 areas of science that will support the focus areas, funded by reinvesting the earnings generated across NNL All will drive collaborations with universities and address current need within the nuclear sector and the UK in general.
  • Strategic Research: focused on developing capability to meet the future requirements of the UK. NNL will work with customers and other stakeholders to drive necessary new areas of technology to market.
  • Innovation: developing new ways of doing things that will enable the sector to bring new ideas to market, working with customers to address their innovation challenges through the application of science and technology, and partnering with supply chain enterprises to develop solutions for the future.

NNL says this is all supported by virtual collaboration centres, such as the one established with the International Atomic Energy Agency to bring together necessary key skills, infrastructure and financial resources.

“This is why it is really important that the UK explores advanced reactors, NNL stresses. “Our priority is to enable the government to set the right roadmap for the sector to deliver on this technology, and to enable the sector to deliver what is needed by society. But before we can have advanced reactors running in the UK, we need to run a demonstrator, which we want to do in partnership with other nuclear organisations in the UK. Because of the infrastructure we maintain within NNL, we can support the UK’s understanding on the materials, fuels and waste management aspects of advanced reactors.”