Posts Tagged SMR

This week the House of Lord’s Science and Technology Committee published its report “ Nuclear research and technology: Breaking the cycle of indecision”. Weinberg Next Nuclear welcomes the report and agrees with many of its conclusions.

Nuclear has undoubted potential in the UK, but indecision for many years, through successive governments, has impaired progress. Continual delays have damaged both short and long term opportunities, as well as tarnishing the reputation for nuclear in the UK and limiting investor confidence.

Instead, the report argues that the Government “must act now to provide underpinning strategic support to the nuclear industry”. This action can and should be chosen strategically, and the Government can decide to either be a designer, manufacturer and operator of nuclear power itself, or be a destination to operate nuclear reactors designed and potentially manufactured overseas.

The report recommends investment in nuclear research and development, including allocating the £250 million announced by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015 and giving core funding to the National Nuclear Laboratory (see our recommendations for investment in this report). Small modular reactors (SMRs) are one of the areas that have particular potential, with the report recognising they are likely to be “globally important for the future of nuclear energy”. The UK’s experience in this sector, through defence application expertise, gives it the potential to be a world leader. Despite the potential both for the technology globally and the UK specifically, the SMR competition is still delayed. The report recommends the results should be published without delay, and joint ventures with foreign partners to develop the resulting technologies should be considered. Finally the report expresses caution (as we ourselves have done in this blog) on the risks of leaving Euratom as part of the Brexit process without a suitable replacement. Convening a group to plan to preserve the essential benefits of Euratom membership is a matter of urgency as the UK risks losing access to markets, skills and even fuel.

Unless the cycle of indecision is broken, the UK not only risks losing its status as a global leader in the nuclear sector, it also risks development of a secure and sustainable power supply for the future, and even the continued operation of its existing nuclear power plants. Weinberg Next Nuclear hope the Government heed this report, and its recommendations. Following the General Election in June, nuclear power policy should come off of hold and onto fast track.

NIA’s SMR conference: great discussion, now we need action

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on March 3rd, 2017

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 InstituteLiz 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 LLPAnurag 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.

A Positive Budget for Nuclear

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on March 17th, 2016

Following the announcement of £250 million for nuclear innovation in his autumn statement, the Chancellor George Osborne renewed his commitment to nuclear power in yesterday’s budget. He announced a competition for Small modular reactors, an SMR delivery roadmap and at least £30 million for an SMR-enabling advanced manufacturing R&D programme to develop nuclear skills capacity.

The £30 million will presumably be part of the pre-pledged £250 million, rather than in addition to it. Nevertheless, the steps on SMR delivery are encouraging. It is necessary under European state aid rules to run a competition on SMRs before a winner or winners can be chosen. The sooner this is done, the closer they are to being realised. A roadmap for realisation will also help progress and in the Chancellor’s words “pave the way to build one of the world’s first SMRs”.

Our upcoming report on “Next steps on nuclear innovation” – which we aim to publish next month – will contain advice on how the government should pursue not only SMRs but all advanced reactors.

Advanced nuclear initiatives in the UK

Posted by Stephen Tindale on December 18th, 2015

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is currently looking at the potential of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in the UK, and the opportunities for the country to be a leader in this field. An SMR uses a series of small reactor cores, or modules, where the total reactor power output is the sum of the outputs from all of the small reactor modules. Because these reactors are modular, they can be prefabricated and easily transported, reducing many of the costs involved in construction. This means SMRs provide scale but cost less to build and can be built more quickly and easily. They are therefore a popular development in nuclear energy because of the combination of tried and tested design aspects in innovative configurations.


The techno-economic assessment, commissioned earlier this year by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, is considering a number of SMR designs, from both the UK and around the world. It is examining the benefits of these designs and how they could contribute to the UKs energy market, as well as the new industries that the development of these new reactors would support.


This comes alongside the announcement, in the Comprehensive Spending Review, of £250 million over five years dedicated to nuclear research and development, something that Weinberg Next Nuclear has been advocating. We are extremely pleased with this outcome, as these two government initiatives signal a promising commitment to advanced nuclear technologies in the UK. Although the announcement itself highlighted SMRs as a key technology development, there is clear potential for some of the £250 million to be spent on other advanced reactor designs.


This review of SMRs follows a previous feasibility study by the National Nuclear Laboratory, sponsored by the government, which indicated a clear market potential for these reactors and deployment within a ten-year timeframe. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that many of these designs could be safer because of their innovative use of passive safety systems and rolling maintenance programmes, made viable because of the modular design. SMRs will also be a lot more flexible, allowing them to be utilised in a number of ways other than just grid electricity, including heating and hydrogen production.


The designs being assessed are extremely varied, from smaller versions of classic light water reactors to modular forms of generation IV reactors, including molten salt designs. This means that the study is able to highlight advanced reactor designs that have potential in a full-size configuration as well as in modular form. The call for evidence from designers closed at the end of November; independent assessors are expected to produce a full review by spring 2016.


Weinberg Next Nuclear’s top priority for 2016 will be to ensure that the £250 million over five years is used to greatest effect. This study of SMR technology gives us a good entry point to the decision-making process. The government has not yet clarified how the nuclear innovation money will be spent; much will go on SMRs, but not all. Therefore, it will be our role to convince policy-makers of the potential of advanced nuclear designs, large and small.


Our November report was on why nuclear innovation is needed. We are now working on a report – due to be published in March – on how innovation should be supported in the UK. The review of Small Modular Reactors and the £250 million available funding will be central to our recommendations.



Another union of nuclear and renewable power

Posted by Mark Halper on January 8th, 2013

Small vision. Addressing a nuclear conference in Warsaw last month, Grizz Deal saw many uses for small reactors, including baseload power at solar plants.

The pairing of nuclear power  supporters with renewable energy advocates might have until recently struck most people as a case of “strange bedfellows.”

But more and more, the combination is looking like a logical match of kindred spirits intent on moving the world off of CO2-spewing fossil fuel energy sources. We noted last autumn how the nuclear and renewables industries were joining hands in the UK, for instance.

Now, a couple of new cases in point: Two utilities in the United States are contemplating co-locating small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at solar power stations, as a way to assure  round-the-clock power  – which intermittent solar cannot provide.

That’s according to Grizz Deal, the co-founder a Denver-based SMR company formerly called Hyperion Power Generation and now called Gen4 Energy.

“There’s actually a couple studies being done, one by Pacific Gas and Electric in California, and one by Florida Power & Light, as a way to beef up their renewable program,” Deal said in an address to the World Nuclear Power Briefing Europe 2012 conference in Warsaw last month.


An SMR, as its name suggests, is smaller than the gigawatt-plus sized conventional reactors. Its size can vary widely, from a range of around 10 megawatt electricity capacity to around 300. Several companies like Gen4 are developing SMRs with the intention of selling them as both electricity and heat sources to utilities, industry and governments and as power sources in remote areas. When Deal was with Gen4 (he left about two years ago and now runs a Denver-based clean water firm called IX Power), he was targeting the water purification market.

Developers are also applying different designs, including conventional water-cooled uranium fueled mini conventional reactors, as well as liquid molten salt reactors (MSRs), pebble bed reactors, and others.

Kirk Sorensen, co-founder of Huntsville, Ala.-based Flibe Energy, hopes to sell small MSRs fueled by liquid thorium (rather than uranium) to the U.S. military bases, which would allow them to disconnect from unreliable public electricity grids.

Another company, South Africa’s Steenkampskraal Thorium Ltd., is developing a 35-megawatt (electric) thorium fueled pebble bed reactor that it hopes to sell as a source of industrial heat and for other purposes.

The U.S. Department of Energy last year announced that it would help fund a uranium-fueled SMR under development by Charlotte, N.C.-based Babcock & Wilcox, for use by utility Tennessee Valley Authority.

DOE is expected to soon award funding to at least one more SMR developer.  To hear Deal talk, it sounds as though the solar and wind industry might want to play close attention.

Photo of Grizz Deal by Mark Halper.


Independent thinking: Babcock & Wilcox CEO James Ferland says modular reactors will help assure U.S. energy independence.

Chalk up a small victory for alternative nuclear power in the West. The U.S. Department of Energy will help North Carolina-based Babcock & Wilcox develop and build a “small modular reactor.”

DOE announced recently that it had awarded funding to a B&W-led group that also includes federally owned electricity provider the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and U.S. construction firm Bechtel Corp.

TVA is applying for a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deploy up to 4 of B&W’s 180-megawatt mPower reactors at TVA’s Clinch River site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the project is based.

In announcing the decision, Energy Secretary Steve Chu issued an assurance that nuclear has a solid place in the government’s plans for a low carbon future – an assertion that many nuclear supporters would welcome, but with an “I’ll believe more when I see more” shrug.

“The Obama Administration continues to believe that low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role to play in America’s energy future,” said Chu.  “Restarting the nation’s nuclear industry and advancing small modular reactor technologies will help create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses, and ensure we continue to take an all-of-the-above approach to American energy production.”


Small modular reactors would provide alternatives to large gigawatt-plus nuclear reactors, allowing utilities or private users to add nuclear capacity without having to spend many billions of dollars in upfront costs associated with conventional behemoth reactors.

They could also provide low cost power in remote areas – where expensive and CO2-heavy diesel generators are often used – and can be an effective heat and electricity source for industrial operations. In principle they can be factory-made and transported by truck. They still have some heft though – a New York times blog on B&W’s plans refers to mPower’s “towering metal shell.”

B&W’s mPower and other SMRs  that DOE evaluated are essentially scaled down versions of conventional water cooled, solid fuel uranium reactors.

As such, they are not as pronounced a departure from traditional nuclear as are other designs that we track here at Weinberg, such as liquid molten salt reactors, pebble bed reactors and fast neutron reactors. Those typically fit the “modular” form factor and in many instances will deploy thorium fuel, portending safer and more efficient nuclear operations than with uranium fuel.

South Africa’s Steenkampskraal Thorium Ltd, for instance, is developing a 35-megawatt (electric) pebble bed reactor. Flibe Energy in Huntsville, Alabama, also has modular sizes in mind for its liquid thorium molten salt reactor.


Neither DOE nor B&W would disclose the amount of funding DOE is providing. Various published reports including in the Charlotte Business Journal (Charlotte, North Carolina) and pegged it at $225 million.

“Through a five-year cost-share agreement, the Energy Department will invest up to half of the total project cost, with the project’s industry partners matching this investment by at least one-to-one,” DOE’s press release states. “The specific total will be negotiated between the Energy Department and Babcock & Wilcox.”

The award was part of a project to fund $450 million of SMR development that DOE announced last March, so the $225 million would represent half of that programme.

The New York Times had a more modest sense of the funding, noting, “At one point it (DOE) anticipated a $452 million program over five years, but so far Congress has appropriated only $67 million. The department is asking for another $65 million for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. Also, the department has not said how much it was providing to Babcock & Wilcox.”

B&W CEO James Ferland welcomed the funding. “With this public-private partnership, the DOE is providing important national leadership for America in the global pursuit of SMR technology,”  he said. “This partnership is essential to reestablishing our nation’s international competitiveness in the nuclear energy industry, as well as enhancing U.S. manufacturing infrastructure and energy independence. “

The company wasted no time in demonstrating momentum. About a week after winning the funding, it announced it had contracted Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based Lehigh Heavy Forge Corp. to fabricate the shell.


B&W is believed to have beaten rivals Westinghouse and NuScale for the award.  DOE said it still plans to fund other SMR projects. Westinghouse is developing an SMR that is a smaller version of its large AP1000 “passively cooled” reactor.

But Westinghouse is also partnering with DOE and China on the development of alternative design reactors that can run on thorium or uranium.

The award to B&W is an encouraging sign that DOE is investing outside the traditional nuclear box.  It would be no small development if DOE were to next apply some of its $450 million modular budget to altogether different reactor designs, not just reduced-sized ones.

Photo: Nancy Pierce via Charlotte Business Journal

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