The Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords are undertaking an inquiry on the priorities for nuclear research and technologies.
Our response has now been published online here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/science-and-technology-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/nuclear-research-and-technologies/nuclear-research-and-technologies-publications/ or can be read below.
Weinberg Next Nuclear – Written evidence (PNT0045)
Weinberg Next Nuclear is a charity promoting advanced nuclear technologies: fast reactors, molten salt reactors, small modular reactors. We therefore very much welcome this Committee enquiry.
Since the Committee’s 2011 report on the UK’s nuclear R&D capacity, Weinberg Next Nuclear has published two short reports on the need for the UK government to support nuclear innovation – financially and through public policy.
Our 2015 report Why Nuclear Innovation is Needed (http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2015/11/23/why-nuclear-innovation-is-needed/) outlined the advantages of next-generation nuclear technology:
– 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. This could reduce construction costs. They could be installed where the heat could be used as well as the power.
We called on the then-Chancellor George Osborne to fund prototype demonstrations of advanced nuclear reactors. He did allocate £250 million to nuclear R&D in the 2015 Autumn Statement, and the Government launched the SMR competition.
In April 2016 we published a follow-up report Next Steps for Nuclear Innovation in the UK (http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/2016/04/27/report-launch-next-steps-for-nuclear-in-the-uk/) 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.
Weinberg Next Nuclear believes that responsibility for ensuring that the UK has a coherent and consistent long term policy for civil nuclear activities lies firmly with the Government. The Government is not doing enough to fund research and development on SMRs, or on motivating others to do so. The results of the SMR competition need to be announced as soon as possible. The Government then needs to do more to fund research, development and demonstration of fast reactors and molten salt reactors.
Author: Stephen Tindale, Director
24 February 2017
 This is the operating name of the Alvin Weinberg Foundation.
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