Breakthroughs to be funded include novel construction and manufacturing techniques, remote monitoring and sensors to eliminate the danger from people entering radioactive areas, and an ocean-imaging system to stop jellyfish blooms blocking cooling water intakes.
The funding is announced today (Thursday) by Business Secretary Vince Cable as part of a wider series of investments each tackling different innovation challenges across UK industry.
This element is a joint initiative between Innovate UK (the new name for the Technology Strategy Board), the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to stimulate the UK's civil nuclear power sector.
With most of the money funding 15 collaborative RD projects, and a further 26 smaller-scale feasibility studies also benefiting, the three organisations’ aim is to develop a strong, innovative and sustainable supply chain to serve both national and global markets.
Members of successful consortia include universities of Bristol, Manchester, Strathclyde, Sheffield, East Anglia and York – with participating companies coming from such varied locations as Kilsyth, Southampton, Nottingham, Sheffield, Lowestoft, Dorking, Luton, Manchester, Cambridge, Cumbria and Torrington.
Vince Cable said:
“The nuclear industry offers billions of pounds of business opportunities for British businesses, so we want to make the most of this growing sector. That is why we are funding inventors to use innovative processes to protect this valuable industry. Long-term, we will safeguard Britain’s legacy for ideas and ingenuity through the forthcoming Science and Innovation Strategy.”
Over the coming decades, the nuclear industry is set for a major expansion. Around £930bn investment is planned globally to build new reactors, with international procurement of around £25bn a year to 2025. In the UK, agreement is now in place to construct the first nuclear power station since 1995, with more likely to follow.
Meanwhile, the decommissioning market is also set to expand, with up to 145 mostly European reactors expected to reach the end of their lives in the next 15 years, and an estimated global market worth £50 billion annually.
For UK businesses in the area of nuclear engineering and its associated technologies, innovation in this area could deliver direct benefits to the UK worth up to £14bn by 2050.
Innovate UK Chief Executive Iain Gray said:
“These proposals, and the consortia behind them, will help our civil nuclear industry set new standards in safe and smart operation. All the innovations you see here will either help the UK consolidate areas where we are world-leaders or help us move towards that position in others.
“It marks a significant step forward for civil nuclear operations which are smarter and safer than ever before, and it’s a great commercial opportunity for UK plc and its businesses.’
NDA Head of Technology, Prof Melanie Brownridge, added:
“Our RD strategy is very focused on developing innovative technologies that support our clean-up mission. Joint funding initiatives such as this greatly increase the investment potential across the whole nuclear sector and also, importantly, bring research partners together collaboratively in the drive for progress and creative scientific thinking. I was very pleased with the quality and level of response from the nuclear decommissioning supply chain.”
The competition awards build on the findings and recommendations of a number of recent reports on the UK's civil nuclear sector, including the Government's Nuclear Industrial Strategy. They also demonstrate sustained innovation funding in this area following an earlier collaborative initiative in 2012, which was worth around £18 million to more than 30 projects.