UK could bring first modular reactor online “by 2030”

The UK could have its first small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) online by 2030 if the government gave investors confidence by committing to a policy and legislative roadmap, says a report by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), a public-private think tank.

The report says SMRs could supply UK cities with both heat and power, but officials would have to overcome their traditional aversion to the kind of district heating schemes that are standard in Scandinavian urban areas.

SMRs, which produce about 25% of the energy of a conventional reactor, are being developed by several countries around the world, although none has yet entered service.

Advocates claim that SMRs will cut the cost of nuclear power because they can be mass produced to generic designs that are pre-certified by nuclear regulators.

The cost of getting a design to pre-certification is high, however, so to tempt investors government should set out clear policy goals and a legislative framework, the ETI says.

Government should also indicate when negotiations would start over the operators’ "contract for difference" payments – that is, the price the government would guarantee for the energy produced.

The report strongly recommends that SMRs be developed as combined heat and power (CHP) plants in inland areas, since traditional nuclear power stations are sited on coasts and use seawater for cooling.

The ETI was set up by the UK government in 2007 to accelerate the development of new energy technologies. Representatives from Shell, BP, Caterpillar and EDF Energy sit on its board, alongside civil servants.

More than 45 SMR designs are being developed around the world in countries including Russia, India, Japan, the US, France, China and Argentina, reported the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in March.

In 2014, four reactors in the SMR category were under construction, said the IAEA. Argentina has the CAREM-25, an industrial prototype, Russia has two designs of floating reactor, the KLT-40S and the RITM-200, and China has the HTR-PM, an industrial demonstration plant.

In the US, a venture called NuScale, backed by engineering giant Fluor, is hoping to have a licensed design in place by 2020. The first site permit application in America was submitted in May by the Tennessee Valley Authority near its Oak Ridge facility.

  • Read the ETI report, Preparing For Deployment of A UK Small Modular Reactor By 2030, here.

Image: A graphic produced by the Oak Ridge laboratory showing the dimensions of an SMR

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