On Monday, the Nuclear Industry Association held its Small Modular Reactor conference. Weinberg Next Nuclear were delighted to attend and our director Stephen Tindale was one of the many speakers.
The conference was opened by Tom Wintle, deputy director of SMRs, decommissioning and waste at the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Though he spoke very eloquently about the importance of nuclear, and SMRs to the government, particularly in regards to the Industrial Strategy’s aims of home grown industries, developing skills, regional rejuvenation and a stronger economy for the growth areas of tomorrow, he would not be drawn on the real issues the audience clearly wanted to hear about: the much delayed SMR competition and the question of public funding at Moorside. Instead, he highlighted changing priorities of the government, with a renewed focus on energy security, consumer bills and the potential for driving exports and capturing a global SMR market in a post Brexit UK. He would also not be drawn on the future relationship with Euratom, saying it was too early to speculate but repeating it was a non-negotiable aspect of exiting the EU, a decision many we spoke to think is premature and will lead to huge hurdles for British nuclear in the future.
Clearly, despite the challenges ahead, the potential and appetite for new nuclear displayed at the conference was immense. Talks followed by Charles Potter of the national Nuclear laboratory who said there were 250 potential sites for SMRs in the UK with an estimate of 70GWe that could be developed. Then Dr John Iris Jones spoke about the nuclear site at Trawsfynydd and how the community, who largely rely on the current nuclear reactor for jobs, were strongly in support of a new SMR and were keen to see progress on the technology.
Our Director Stephen Tindale was on a panel with Mike Middleton of the Energy Technology Institute, Liz Saville-Roberts MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and Tom Greatrex of the Nuclear Industry Association discussing SMRs and Industrial Strategy. He argued the government needed a portfolio of clean energy technologies, and within the nuclear portfolio itself, there are lots of opportunities including load following for intermittent technologies and using up the spent fuel stockpile for energy instead of treating it as waste. When asked about government plans he said the Government have spent enough time building a vision; now, we need action. The action we need to see, Stephen recommended, was the Government telling the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to release sites for advanced nuclear and instructing the Office for Nuclear Regulation to undertake Generic Design Assessments for advanced reactors, expanding their capacity to do so if necessary.
Later panels discussed achieving and financing SMRs. The former by Chris Lewis from EY and Richard Beake from Atkins discussed the 60x30x2 challenge. This incorporates electricity at less that $60 per mwh, available by 2030 at a cost of $2billion per plant. Nuclear power stations have thus far been failing at this challenge because they are too large and complex, generating much hope that SMRs could be the smaller, simpler solution that will deliver. Counteracting this point was a later finance panel who said getting cost down is over-emphasised as to an investor it sounds like risks. This panel, comprising Fiona Reilly from Atlantic Superconnection LLP, Anurag Gupta from KPMG LLP and Gareth Price from Allan & Overy LLP, also argued that BEIS were putting too much hope into an export market as with bigger contributors emerging like China and the US, it is unlikely that the UK will be able to compete. Instead, they argued other costs should be taken into account such as the avoided cost of managing the plutonium stockpile if re-cycled as fuel, and the value of jobs to communities which are worth more than the wages alone. Overall they made a strong statement for state-led nuclear power incorporating the private sector at a later stage of development if possible.
The other sessions of the day and networking were all equally interesting at what was overall an excellent event. However the clear mood is that talking and discussion are not being paralleled with policy progress. The sector desperately needs to see some action from government, to progress with the SMR review, provide certainty for Moorisde and clarify the terms of Euratom membership. Without certainty that the UK is still a nuclear player the sector will easily be lost overseas, to Canada, the USA or Asia, where the necessary action and support is more readily available.