Posted by Suzanna Hinson

New nuclear power capacity in the UK is a challenge to construct. Hinkley Point C had been in the pipeline since 2008. It now has final approval, but will take many more years to build. The length and expense of getting new capacity from initial proposal, through the expensive regulatory assessment to construction is a daunting prospect for companies with new reactor designs and plans. 

The UK’s licencing and regulatory system needs to be better resourced and better connected. The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) undertakes a Generic Design Assessment, recognised globally as a leader in nuclear regulation. But ONR is limited in its capacity, able to do only two assessments at a time at present. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) manages the UK’s legacy of old reactors, spent fuel and – importantly – licensed nuclear sites.

The fact that regulation and siting are dealt with by different organisations lengthens delays, slows progress and increases costs, often with nuclear developers bounced between the two organisations. The disconnect between these two organisations and their separate priorities is also outdated. Increasingly, nuclear designs show potential to not only produce electricity and heat but also to recycle spend fuel as a resource rather than waste. To make progress on advanced reactors the two organisations need to work more closely together.

Both the ONR and NDA take their direction from the Government. With the Industrial Strategy highlighting that nuclear is a priority, the Government need to act. It should:

·      tell the NDA to release sites for demonstration of reactors;

·      tell ONR to begin Generic Design Assessment on two Generation IV designs.

The NDA has sufficient capacity to assess then release necessary sites. ONR’s lack of capacity has in the past been a block to nuclear innovation. Other countries’ nuclear regulators, notably the Canadian ones, have many more staff than ONR does (and are also more willing to begin dialogue with potential developers before the formal regulatory process begins). ONR now aims to increase its capacity, a welcome objective, that must now be delivered. Ministers must tell ONR to begin assessing advanced reactor designs to prevent them becoming a bottleneck for expansion. The increased capacity should also be used to allow greater cooperation between the two organisations.

With the exit from Euratom and competition from other countries, it is essential that the UK turns its policy support for nuclear into actual progress, or risk getting left behind in this key sector. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy must not use lack of ONR capacity as an excuse for inaction.

Comments

  1. Alan Bucknall says:

    Having procrastinated for years, UK governments policy has put UK industry at high risk of power outages within the decade and beyond, whilst contractors are struggling to finance and commission current designs. Experience to date points to late commissioning at Hinkley Point C and the Mooreside project is in disarray. Beyond that, who knows?

    If risk to UK industry is to be managed, ONR’s first priority, surely, must focus on GDAs in respect of new reactors using Gen III+ technology, based on designs already proven elsewhere. That way minimises the time to deliver reliable heat and power, on time and on cost. UK industrial needs in the foreseeable future will not be met using Gen IV technology.

  2. david foster says:

    The NDA and ONR need a joint approach for new nuclear build the reactor design for Hinkley point is still not working in Finland also the cost over runs are massive.
    looking carefully at the progress needed for contractors to submit a design which meets all of the requirements of the ONR process takes many years and technology and policy move on.
    making it almost impossible to submit a successful bid.
    The UK government needs to decide on ownership and then tell the ONR what they want and get the contractors to build it.

    • Jeremy Owston says:

      The situation is very disappointing, in the UK nuclear regulation is the only industry requires the person whos product is to be regulated to pay for the work of the regulator. Also it in the UK there is no obvious method to approach the regulator or how decisions on who’s reactor will be assessed is decided.

      The analogy is like you want to build an extension on your house for which you need planning permission. However to submit the plans there is no obvious person who you can send your plans to for the planning permission to be assessed. Then the planning authority has no obvious way in which it is decided whether your plans will be assessed or not or when it will happen. Then finally if your plans are decided to be assessed you have to pay for the privilege of the planning authority to assess them. If such a difficult and obscure approach existed there would be a complete stop on any house extensions or new housing builds.

      The process is crazy and is a massive barrier to innovation and development in new nuclear reactors.

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