In 2014, a National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) led consortium published a feasibility study for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
In summary, this considered whether the UK should develop its own SMR design, either alone or in partnership, or purchase an existing design. The report concluded that there is an opportunity for the UK to regain technology leadership in the ownership and development of low-carbon generation and secure energy supplies through investment in SMRs.
The Government announced in the Chancellor’s 2015 Autumn Statement that DECC will invest £250m in an “ambitious nuclear R&D programme designed to make the UK a global leader in innovative nuclear technologies”. In March of this year, it announced the first phase of a competition which would gauge market interest among SMR developers and potential investors, eventually leading to identifying the best value SMR design for the UK.
But why would the UK want to invest in SMR’s when there are plans for new reactors to be built at Hinkley Point in Somerset, Sizewell in Suffolk, Wylfa on Anglesey, Oldbury in Gloucestershire, Moorside in Cumbria and Bradwell in Essex?
These sites have not yet received their final investment decisions and not all have completed their regulatory review through the Generic Design Assessment process. The first of these new reactors is not due to be commissioned until 2025 and the Government aims to have 16 GW(e) installed capacity by 2030; SMR deployment could supplement this by a further 7 GW(e).
It is interesting to note that the Government welcomes the diverse approach of several different reactor designs for the large scale projects; however, with respect to SMRs it just wants to choose one. Thirty-eight companies submitted expressions of interest to the Government’s competition and it is reported 33 will go through to the next stage.
It should also be noted that no SMR has yet been licensed and built anywhere in the world, although several are under construction. So a key step in the UK case is that the chosen design will need to go through the GDA process, which to date takes about five years. This means construction of the first SMR could also be achieved by 2025 with commissioning by 2030.
Not only will this help with the UK’s low-carbon policy, but success in the UK will undoubtedly lead to it becoming an exporter of the technology and UK manufacturing getting a good slice of the anticipated £250-450 billion global market.
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