Number 10 (Credit; UK Government)The UK government has outlined plans to invest £525 million ($686 million) to help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear power plants, and research and develop new advanced modular reactors.

The announcement is part Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, covering clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies. The plan aims to mobilise £12 billion of government investment, and potentially three times as much from the private sector, and to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs.

The ten points covered are: offshore wind; hydrogen; nuclear; electric vehicles; public transport; Jet Zero and greener maritime; homes and public buildings; carbon capture; nature; innovation and finance.

According to the detailed outline of the plan, the nuclear investment includes:

  • Up to £385 million in an Advanced Nuclear Fund, including up to £215 million for small modular reactor development through the UK SMR consortium.
  • Up to £170 million for an R&D programme on advanced modular reactors, with the aim of building a demonstrator by the early 2030s.
  • An additional £40 million to develop the regulatory frameworks and support UK supply chains for new reactor designs.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK Nuclear Industry Association, said that the government’s commitment to large, small and advanced nuclear as part of the future energy mix is "an important pointer towards how we will achieve net zero. All zero emissions technologies will need to play their part for net zero to become a reality.”

However, he added that further detail to come in the Energy White Paper, due to be published later this year, will be "vitally important."

Second phase of SMR development expected in 2021

Tom Samson, interim CEO for the UK SMR consortium welcomed the funding. The consortium of Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Rolls-Royce and TWI is developing a 440MW factory-built SMR.

“Our consortium is excited by the government’s ambition and delighted that there is further investment from UK Research and Innovation in our power station programme, which is essential to economic recovery and combating climate change,” Samson said.

UKRI launched the programme in November 2019 with an initial £18 million investment to develop a concept design, which was match funded by the UK SMR consortium, led by Rolls-Royce.

The second investment from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will accelerate the concept design to a maturity sufficient to attract private investors and help establish the UK as an international leader in SMR manufacturing, UKRI said.  

The next phase of the programme is due to begin in May 2021 and will last for four years. Milestones will include launching a new company, and raising an additional £300 million in new capital to deliver a fully-engineered solution with regulatory approval. The consortium will also identify and develop sites for new factories to make components and modules for the power stations.

The consortium’s ambition is to deliver a fleet of reactors across multiple sites in the UK. The primary focus is to explore possibilities across the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estate, where up to 16 reactors could be built.

“The NDA has got an estate of decommissioned nuclear assets that are ideally placed to host our technology and in turn, create significant economic benefits in those communities that have been close to nuclear power plants for the last five or six decades,” Samson told NEI in October.

“Beyond that, there's other adaptable infrastructure that could also be used to host our technology, such as decommissioned coal plants. And hopefully then we can also then start to think about integrating these solutions inside future refineries where we produce hydrogen synthetic fuels,” he added.

By 2050 a full UK programme of up to 16 UK SMR power stations could create up to 40,000 jobs, £52bn of value to the UK economy and £250bn of exports, Rolls-Royce said.

Boost for advanced reactors

The announcement was also welcomed by U-Battery, which is developing a 10MWt (4MWe) high-temperature gas cooled reactor, on a dual track process in the UK and Canada.

Steve Threlfall, U-Battery’s general manager, said: “This is another sign of a strong commitment from the UK Government to achieving net zero and advanced and small nuclear reactors being a key part of the solution."

Earlier this year U-Battery was one of three advanced reactor designs selected to receive almost £10 million in funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) competition.

In Phase 1 of the competition U-Battery conducted a feasibility study that made the business, economic and technical case for the deployment of the reactor. The study also demonstrated how U-Battery could support the decarbonisation of several the UK’s critical and strategic heavy and energy intensive industries, including the paper, glass, steel, ceramics, minerals and chemicals sectors.

U-Battery has now progressed to Phase 2 of the AMR programme, and is using funding from Government to initiate design and development work that will contribute to the first of a kind deployment of a U-Battery.

The company has also received £1.1 million of additional funding from BEIS to design and build mock-ups of the two main vessels for the reactor and the connecting duct.

“Our AMR can make a significant contribution to decarbonising sectors which it is difficult to assist by other means, such as the UK’s Foundation Industries. Being developed in the North of England in Cheshire, it is also a highly versatile technology that can be deployed for other beneficial uses, such as the production of hydrogen through the copper chlorine process," Threlfall said.

The other developers selected for Phase 2 of the AMR competition also welcomed the announcement. They are: Westinghouse Electric Company, which is developing a lead-cooled fast reactor; and Tokamak Energy, which is working with industry partners and research establishments on a Spherical Tokamak.

Plan details nuclear fusion goals

The plan also mentions goals for nuclear fusion. It said: "We are doubling down on our ambition to be the first country in the world to commercialise fusion energy technology, enabling low carbon and continuous power generation."

The UK government is already providing £222 million in funding for the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme, which aims to build a commercially viable fusion power plant in the UK by 2040. The goal is to select a site for a demonstrator by 2022.

Government is also investing £184 million for new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships, to "lay the foundations of a global hub for fusion innovation in the UK.”

Professor Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority said: “The Government’s ten-point plan lays a path for how the UK can combat climate change. UKAEA is delighted to see fusion included in the plan and the Government’s continued support for realising its huge potential."

He added: “The UK’s Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production power plant aims to be one of the first in the world producing electricity from fusion power. This will open the way for fusion to provide clean energy around the world.”

There are also expected to be other benefits for industry. “It’s not just energy, there will be a technological benefit more broadly associated with pursuing and delivering fusion power,” Paul Methven, STEP programme director said.