The Department of Energy and Climate Change is currently looking at the potential of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in the UK, and the opportunities for the country to be a leader in this field. An SMR uses a series of small reactor cores, or modules, where the total reactor power output is the sum of the outputs from all of the small reactor modules. Because these reactors are modular, they can be prefabricated and easily transported, reducing many of the costs involved in construction. This means SMRs provide scale but cost less to build and can be built more quickly and easily. They are therefore a popular development in nuclear energy because of the combination of tried and tested design aspects in innovative configurations.
The techno-economic assessment, commissioned earlier this year by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, is considering a number of SMR designs, from both the UK and around the world. It is examining the benefits of these designs and how they could contribute to the UKs energy market, as well as the new industries that the development of these new reactors would support.
This comes alongside the announcement, in the Comprehensive Spending Review, of £250 million over five years dedicated to nuclear research and development, something that Weinberg Next Nuclear has been advocating. We are extremely pleased with this outcome, as these two government initiatives signal a promising commitment to advanced nuclear technologies in the UK. Although the announcement itself highlighted SMRs as a key technology development, there is clear potential for some of the £250 million to be spent on other advanced reactor designs.
This review of SMRs follows a previous feasibility study by the National Nuclear Laboratory, sponsored by the government, which indicated a clear market potential for these reactors and deployment within a ten-year timeframe. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that many of these designs could be safer because of their innovative use of passive safety systems and rolling maintenance programmes, made viable because of the modular design. SMRs will also be a lot more flexible, allowing them to be utilised in a number of ways other than just grid electricity, including heating and hydrogen production.
The designs being assessed are extremely varied, from smaller versions of classic light water reactors to modular forms of generation IV reactors, including molten salt designs. This means that the study is able to highlight advanced reactor designs that have potential in a full-size configuration as well as in modular form. The call for evidence from designers closed at the end of November; independent assessors are expected to produce a full review by spring 2016.
Weinberg Next Nuclear’s top priority for 2016 will be to ensure that the £250 million over five years is used to greatest effect. This study of SMR technology gives us a good entry point to the decision-making process. The government has not yet clarified how the nuclear innovation money will be spent; much will go on SMRs, but not all. Therefore, it will be our role to convince policy-makers of the potential of advanced nuclear designs, large and small.
Our November report was on why nuclear innovation is needed. We are now working on a report – due to be published in March – on how innovation should be supported in the UK. The review of Small Modular Reactors and the £250 million available funding will be central to our recommendations.