Archive for April, 2016

Report Launch: Next Steps for Nuclear in the UK

Posted by Stephen Tindale on April 27th, 2016

Next Steps for Nuclear in the UK

A new report from pro-nuclear think tank Weinberg Next Nuclear, outlines what the Government should do to make the UK a world leader in advanced nuclear technology. The report argues that the British government should support small nuclear reactors as well as large new reactors, and that by the early 2020s at least three advanced reactor designs should have been assessed by the regulator.

Existing civil nuclear reactor designs provide large amounts of clean, low carbon energy, so improving energy security and air quality and mitigating climate change. But they have high upfront capital costs, and are not sufficiently flexible to back up wind and solar power. Advanced nuclear designs could address these drawbacks.

In November 2015 Weinberg Next Nuclear published a report on ‘The Need for Nuclear Innovation’. Chancellor George Osborne subsequently promised, in his 2015 Autumn Statement, £250 million over five years for nuclear R&D. In the March 2016 Budget, he announced a £30 million competition for advanced manufacturing in nuclear, and a competition to support innovation in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).

This report:

– outlines criteria which government should use in selecting reactor designs to support (but does not say which designs should be chosen);

– recommends that at least one of the reactors supported should be a Generation IV design, because this could re-use spent nuclear fuel, and also use plutonium as fuel. The UK has the largest plutonium stockpile in the world;

– suggests that SMRs and micro-reactors (less than 20 megawatts) will be cheaper to construct than large reactors because they can be made on production lines then transported to site. Generation IV reactors may also be considerably cheaper than existing nuclear designs due to less complex designs – though this will not be known until one has been constructed;

– supports the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s proposal to increase its capacity by expanding staff numbers. Lack of regulatory capacity is currently the major barrier to nuclear innovation in the UK;

– proposes that UK nuclear regulators should work closely with their Canadian and US counterparts, with the aim of developing a regulatory approval mechanism that would cover all three countries.


Download the report.

Stephen Tindale, director of Weinberg Next Nuclear, said:

“The UK’s energy mix must be based on diversity. So the policy argument should not be whether to support solar, wind, CCS or nuclear. ‘All of the above’ will be needed.

Existing nuclear technology is very good, but future nuclear technology can be even better. If the £250 million is sensibly spent, it could contribute to the UK becoming a world leader in both small and Generation IV reactors.”



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Notes for editors

1) Weinberg Next Nuclear is part of the Alvin Weinberg Foundation charity. The Foundation plans to continue work on advanced nuclear energy, and to expand its work into other clean energy sources – wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, CCS.

2) Three companies contributed sponsorship support to the workstream behind this report: Terrestrial Energy, URENCO and Moltex Energy. Editorial control remained with Weinberg Next Nuclear alone.


What does the US election mean for American Nuclear?

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on April 1st, 2016

If, for a change, we ignore the worryingly popular climate deniers on the Republican side of the debate, we can see there is a schism developing on the Democratic side about how best to clean up US energy. Although both Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton are agreed on tackling climate change, they disagree on whether nuclear power should be part of the solution.

Sanders has long been against nuclear power, associating it with nuclear weapons and citing issues with the current reactors such as waste, cost and proliferation. His policy is to stop relicensing existing nuclear power plants, and move the staff to new renewable ventures. His total clean development plan aims for a cut in emissions of 40%, greater than that promised by Clinton. But it would also involve an early and rapid shrinkage of the US nuclear sector, currently 19% of electricity supply, at a time when electricity demand would be drastically growing to replace fossil fuels in other energy sectors.

This approach has however faced criticism with many claiming it is neither politically nor practically possible. Phasing out fossil fuels, which supply 67% of US electricity demand, would be very difficult to achieve whilst simultaneously phasing out nuclear. As Steve Clemmer, director of energy research for the Union of Concerned Scientists, has said “we don’t think anything should be off the table, including building new nuclear plants because decarbonizing the energy sector by 2050 is going to be a huge challenge”. The climate consequences of such a nuclear phase out is thought to be an increase in US carbon emissions of 2 billion tonnes.

In contrast, Hilary Clinton has also faced criticism from environmentalists over her defense of nuclear power as a low-carbon technology. Although she has been agnostic about nuclear in the past, in a recent press statement she stated “proposals to end natural gas production or rapidly shut down our nation’s nuclear power fleet put ideology ahead of science and would make it harder and more costly to build a clean energy future”. In addition, though Sanders has not mentioned advanced nuclear in his blanket ban of new build reactors, Clinton has said on her campaign fact sheets that she favours “advanced nuclear,” which requires “expand[ing] successful innovation initiatives and cut[ing] those that fail to deliver results.”

The incoming president will have big shoes to fill. Obama has prioritised climate change more than any other president in history, and has initiated many clean energy and environment policies, including the recent Gateway for Advanced Nuclear Innovation (GAIN). Though there is much reason for concern from the Republican camp, it is positive that both the Democratic front-runners are committed to climate change mitigation, though Weinberg Next Nuclear will always recommend achieving this mitigation with an “all of the above” approach that includes advanced, clean safe and sustainable nuclear power.

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