Posted by Suzanna Hinson

Hinkley Point may be taking all the attention at present, but it is not the be all and end all of nuclear power in the UK. There is plenty more in the pipeline so, whatever happens in Somerset, progress can be made elsewhere. The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation aims to complete Generic Design Assessments for new reactors, the AP1000 and Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), during 2017.

NuGen, jointly owned by Japan’s Toshiba and France’s Engie, is progressing with plans to build an AP1000 at Moorside in West Cumbria. At present, they are carrying out site assessment surveys, including geophysical surveys, geological age dating and some borehole drilling work, which must be completed before construction can begin. AP1000 reactors, designed by Westinghouse, are being planned in multiple countries worldwide, with the first plants scheduled to come online in China this year. There have been some delays on these world-first reactors, but not as serious as those in France and Finland for the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) proposed for Hinkley.

Horizon, owned by Hitachi, are also continuing with their plans for an ABWR at Wylfa on Anglesey. Site development work is progressing, with plans to begin construction in 2018/9 and start generation in the mid 2020s. A total of four ABWRs have been constructed, all in Japan, and all completed on time and on budget. Following Fukushima, all nuclear plants were shut down and no ABWRs have yet re-opened, but three are being reviewed for re-opening and having nearby seismic faults assessed. Japan also had two ABWRs under construction before Fukushima. Work was suspended but has since re-started on both sites.

These two projects are independent of Hinkley and should continue regardless of its fate. According to the Telegraph, a source close to the Horizon venture said “we know the government wants and needs nuclear to happen. All the questions over Hinkley, we’ve got answers to.” Neither of these reactors are currently reliant on Chinese finance. The Chinese investment is one speculated reason for the delay at Hinkley, with human rights and security both voiced as concerns. Additionally, neither of these projects are using a controversial EPR design, which has experienced delays and over-spends elsewhere.

In addition to these planned sites, there is also ongoing research and development into the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors. The Government promised, in Autumn 2015, an investment of £250 million over 5 years to develop the reactors of the future. This includes a competition to decide which small modular reactor or reactors should be demonstrated in the UK. Advanced reactors have the potential to be cheaper, even cleaner and even safer than current designs, and have added benefits such as the potential ability to use up spent fuel and the plutonium stockpile. (Weinberg Next Nuclear will soon be publishing a report on how to manage plutonium).

It is very important that the Government continues the advanced reactor programme and keeps nuclear as a priority in the UK’s clean energy mix. This will ensure the UK can benefit from safe, secure and sustainable nuclear energy for many years to come, regardless of decisions on Hinkley.

Comments

  1. brendan (@totterdell91) says:

    On the subject of advanced nuclear, I’ve been through all the material I can find on the Moltex reactors, and the only ‘detail’ I can find on their recycling concepts are that they believe their version is simpler & cheaper.

    Could Weinberg press them a little bit for some more detail on the issue? You are probably closest to their efforts.

    It would be nice to know if their reprocessing scheme is aqueous or molten salt or a hybrid. If it is molten salt, which one? Does it simply extract the neutron poisons (or not), partly recover the Uranium (or not), & then fission the remaining actinides?

    Maybe they could team up with periodic videos to put out an explanation/tutorial of some sort on the basic chemistry.

    thanks

    Brendan

  2. Ian Scott (Moltex Energy) says:

    Brendan, you are quite right that we are relatively silent on details of reprocessing, in contrast to our open approach to most other technical detail. The reason is that patents are still in preparation but once they are completed we will be talking more about this.

    But I can say a certain amount. There are two different reprocessing needs for our waste-burning fast reactor variant. The first is production of fuel which involves recovery of plutonium and higher actinides from existing oxide fuel waste. We are using a pyro-process for this but a radically simpler one because we can accept (indeed encourage) contamination of the actinides with lanthanides. It involves a new method for oxide reduction in calcium chloride electrolyte followed by a simplified version of the South Korean/USA methods for electrorefining.

    We then have to reprocess our own spent fuel salt (an NaCl/AxCl3 mix). This is again a pyro-process with removal of some uranium followed by recovery as fuel of the remaining uranium, all the plutonium and higher actinides and a significant portion of the lanthanides. This is achieved by, again, a simplified version of the Korean/USA process. The waste remaining is actinide free fission products which as I am sure you are aware have a vastly shorter hazardous life than the original spent fuel.

    Throughout this development, our key advantage is not requiring high purity separations to produce our fuel, which is in turn a consequence of the static molten salt fuel concept and use of chloride salt as fuel. That makes a big difference to the difficulty of the chemical process required.

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