The UK’s nuclear power industry is assertive about the future despite uncertainties. By Rumyana Vakarelska

Participants in the Nuclear Industry Association's 2017 Nuclear New Build conference in London were assertive about the industry’s future, as, among concerns on nuclear finance and Brexatom, Kepco has announced that it could rescue the Moorside nuclear project in Cumbria.

The South Korean state nuclear company confirmed it is planning to buy shares in NuGen, a subsidiary of Toshiba, which has struggled to finance one of the UK’s leading nuclear power plant projects.

Park Jong Hyuck, chief nuclear officer of Kepco, said that if the deal with Toshiba goes through, the company will install its APR-1400 reactor technology at the Moorside site, following a generic design assessment (GDA) by the Office for Nuclear Regulation during 2018.

Dame Sue Ion, former Chair of the Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board and a strong voice for the UK nuclear power industry said that the new reactors being built in the UK would relieve the pressure of meeting a UK government deadline for nuclear to represent 20% of all UK electricity by 2030. But she noted that there are "huge financial gaps" in the first three new generation nuclear projects that the UK is building, – Hinkley Point C, Wylfa Newydd and Moorside – as the projects are “big, mostly modular, expensive and involve a lot of activity."

Ion stressed the value of R&D. "We are currently a full fuel-cycle nation, so we maintain skills while investing in R&D to keep the expertise,” Ion told the conference. She also noted that the UK is a “global leader in decommissioning and waste management" and said that the complex decommissioning work underway at  Sellafield is good for the export of international expertise.

Ion said that the UK government had planned £250 million of funding for nuclear R&D, but that the majority of this has not yet been released. So the UK has the sites and the skills, but not yet the funding.

The UK’s nuclear workforce currently amounts to some 65,000, according to the Nuclear Industry Association, and this looks set to double with Hinkley C, Wylfa Newydd and Moorside construction projects. In addition, at least 3000 permanent roles are expected across the new power plants once operational, it said.


Lessons for Hinkley Point C

As the conference was taking place, the French nuclear regulator (ASN) announced that the operating licence for Flamanville 3 would be initially for only six years after the plant opens in 2018. EDF is required to replace the reactor vessel head at the unit by 2024, at an estimated cost of £100 million.  

Hinkley Point C will also use EPR reactor technology. It has long been feared that the technical problems which have occurred at Flamanville 3 may affect confidence in the UK project.

ASN’s announcement came at a time when a National Audit Office (NAO) report on the UK plant was just released.

The NAO report raised concerns about the cost of financing Hinkley Point C’s construction, an issue discussed at the conference.

“HPC is a truly defining point for the industry, while we will need to understand the greater [NAO] scrutiny in moving from design to delivery”, said Lord John Hutton, NIA’s chairman.

“The NAO’s report raised some tough questions on Hinkley, but HPC is competitive with other low carbon projects”, he added.

The construction risk a developer of a project takes, in the case of Hinkley Point C, EDF, represents a “higher cost of capital, which clearly impacts on the strike price, but it is still lower than all projects which have received a CFD,” Hutton said.
However, we “understand that the [price] trajectory for future projects has to be downwards,” he added.

The NAO report from June 23, said the 92.50/MWh strike price for Hinkley Point C, which will ultimately be paid for by UK retail electricity consumers, is in danger of not representing good value for money compared to other sources given current power prices (around £45/MWh per day).

Matt Clarke, the head of the civilian nuclear and resilience directorate within the Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy Department (BEIS), said that the UK government would be “looking closely at lessons learned as we go forward” with new nuclear construction. It is clear from the NAO report that the government “needs to be looking at other funding models for new nuclear,” Clarke added.

However, Clarke said the CFD model “gives greater certainty to [nuclear power] producers and protects consumers from higher power prices.”

Eight sites have been identified as suitable for new build in the UK, Clarke noted. He brushed off the expected impact of Brexatom on the UK’s nuclear sector, saying that the UK’s withdrawal from the Euratom Treaty “in no way diminishes UK new build.” He said that a separate team within BEIS would negotiate the UK’s Euratom withdrawal.

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, Managing Director, EDF Energy nuclear new build, said in a speech to the conference that the NAO had in its report acknowledged costs for delivering low carbon electricity would go up to consumers if HPC were not delivered.

He also said that the experiences of the teams working on new EPRs in China and Flamanville 3 (on schedule to start up next year) would directly benefit HPC. Currently, 1600 people are working on the HPC site, but that this will rise to 3000 by the end of 2017, according to Cadoux-Hudson. Around 2000 people are also working on the project in EDF’s French and Bristol offices, he said.

Cadoux-Hudson said that the journey is under way for the Sizewell B and Bradwell new nuclear plants, with 64% of the construction contracts for Sizewell C set to be in the UK. At Sizewell, EDF has completed the second stage of consultation, in which 3000 people took part.

Outlining the progress at Bradwell, Minhong Zhu, General Manager International Nuclear Business Development Division at CGN told the conference that the company has started recruiting local staff and has signed more than 30 contracts with UK suppliers, totalling £60 million. CGN is expecting the HPR1000 to complete Phase 1 of the GDA process in November and for site characterisation works to begin this year, Zhu said.

New participants

There were notable new participants at the NIA’s 2017 conference.

The National Cyber Security Centre, which opened in February 2017, is providing assistance and guidance for the public and private sectors against real-time threats and will become in the future instrumental to UK’s existing and new nuclear power plants, as well as to their supply chains.

It is financed by the UK government and is part of the overall national cyber security plan worth £1.2 billion.

Nuclear CC, which provides technical and regulatory compliance advice to supplier companies has made its first appearance at the NIA’s 2017 conference. The company is ‘translating’ international industry codes into practical assessment outcomes in the UK and internationally, making the growing number of suppliers to HPC and other key projects more competitive.

Heatric, a specialist in printed circuit heat exchangers, was also present at the conference. The company, part of Meggitt Group, has recently been endorsed by the Nuclear AMRC as Fit for Nuclear. Heatric sees opportunities in the nuclear decommissioning sector and beyond. It has already been awarded funding from Sellafield Ltd's 'Game Changers' programme to develop diffusion bonding technology to fabricate lids for intermediate-level waste containers.