Chancellor George Osborne should announce in this week’s Comprehensive Spending Review that the government will fund prototype demonstrations of advanced nuclear reactors. Existing nuclear reactors are already safe and low-carbon, so some more should be built. Future reactors could be even safer and even lower carbon, so prototypes should be constructed.
The advantages of next-generation nuclear power are outlined in a new report; Why nuclear innovation is needed, from Weinberg Next Nuclear, the UK charity promoting nuclear power. These advantages include:
- They can use liquid fuel, so the core cannot melt down;
- They can re-use the spent fuel – which still contains over 90% of the energy that was in the original uranium;
- Advanced reactors could reduce the amount of nuclear waste which has to be managed by future generations (and which already exists so cannot be wished away) by around 95%;
- They can use plutonium as fuel. The UK has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world;
- They can be built as small modules and then assembled on site to reach the scale desired. So they can be installed where the heat could be used as well as the power.
Safety is inherent to the design of next-generation reactors, rather than being a costly add-on. ‘Small Modular Reactors’ can be built on a production line, reducing construction costs. So advanced reactors are likely to be cheaper to build than existing ones – though this will not be known for certain until one has been built and operated.
Energy and Climate Secretary Amber Rudd said in her ‘reset’ speech last week: “Let’s be honest with ourselves, we don’t have all the answers to decarbonisation today. We must develop technologies that are both cheap and green. This means unleashing innovation.” She is right. Innovation is needed in renewable energy and carbon capture and storage, but also in nuclear energy.
George Osborne has a great opportunity on Wednesday to begin the delivery of the Government’s reset energy and climate plan. He can show that the UK is a world leader, not only in phasing out coal but also in developing clean alternatives. We led the industrial revolution; now we must lead the post-industrial revolution.
Stephen Tindale, Director, Weinberg Next Nuclear, 07941 433780