Nuclear power: government announces Britain's 'nuclear renaissance' with global reactor design contest
The government has announced a global competition, calling on companies to design it a smaller nuclear reactor which can be made in a factory and rolled out nationwide
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The government is poised to announce what it describes as Britain's nuclear revival, with ambitious plans to provide a quarter of the UK’s electricity from homegrown nuclear energy by 2050.
On Tuesday (18 July), Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps will reveal how its newly-formed body Great British Nuclear (GBN) will drive a rapid expansion of new nuclear power plants in the UK at what the government describes as an unprecedented scale and pace - with the goal of boosting the UK's energy security.
The plans will involve an international competition, with companies from across the globe vying for funding to develop new, smaller-scale nuclear reactors capable of being built in factories and deployed nationwide.
The move is set to reduce dependence on volatile fossil fuel imports, create more affordable power, create jobs, and grow the economy - with the nuclear industry estimated to generate around £6 billion for the UK economy, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said in a statement.
The government's target is to provide up to a quarter of the UK’s electricity from homegrown nuclear energy by 2050 - while achieving among the cheapest wholesale electricity prices in Europe - it continued. As of late 2022, nuclear power provided around 15% of the UK’s electricity, but most existing nuclear power stations are set to close by 2030.
Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said Britain has a rich history as a pioneer of nuclear power. "I’m proud to be turbocharging its revival and placing our country once again at the forefront of global innovation," he said.
“By rapidly boosting our homegrown supply of nuclear and other clean, reliable, and abundant energy, we will drive down bills for British homes and make sure the UK is never held to energy ransom by tyrants like Putin."
From Tuesday, companies can register their interest with GBN to participate in a competition to secure funding support to develop small modular reactors (SMRs). Unlike conventional reactors that are built on site, SMRs are smaller and can be made in factories, and could transform how power stations are built by making construction faster and less expensive.
Shapps continued: “As we open Great British Nuclear and the competition to develop cutting-edge small modular reactor technology, which could result in billions of pounds of public and private sector investment, we are seeing the first brush strokes of our nuclear power renaissance to power up Britain and grow our economy for decades to come."
In addition to supporting this emerging, more agile technology, the government remains committed to its "mega projects" - Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C - and will work with GBN to consider the place of further large-scale nuclear power plant projects in the UK's energy mix.
In the competition phase, the government is expecting to see "world-class" SMR designs submitted from all around the world through the competitive selection process. Politico reports potential big names vying for funding could include Rolls Royce and GE Hitachi.
Simon Bowen, interim chair of GBN, said the new body was core to delivering the government’s new nuclear programme. “Building on the work done at Hinkley Point and Sizewell, today’s announcement of the start of the SMR selection process signifies a real step forward in delivering the scale of nuclear power that Britain needs for secure, sustainable energy future.
“We look forward to working with all interested parties – technology vendors, the supply chain, the wider industry and local communities as we move this essential programme forward," he said.
As well as the competition, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero announced a £157 million grant funding package. Of that, £77m will go to companies working to help advanced nuclear designs enter UK regulation - maximising the chance of SMRs being built as soon as the next Parliamentary term.
Up to £58 million will go to companies designing next generation fuel types, and advanced modular reactors (AMR) - which operate at a higher temperature than SMRs and could also provide high temperature heat for other uses like hydrogen alongside nuclear power. The lion's share has been awarded to Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation UK in Warrington to develop its AMR design - which could one day produce sustainable aviation fuel.
A further £22.3 million from the Nuclear Fuel Fund will enable eight projects to develop new fuel production and manufacturing capabilities in the UK - to support the global move away from Russian fuel.