A nuclear reactor in every town?

Posted On: 
4th October 2017

The distinction between energy and electricity is diminishing, said the Nuclear Industry Association at a Conservative party conference fringe event.

Credit: 
PA

Citing transport and heating as a primary example, the NIA said electrification of our world is only going to continue

But how best to meet this ever-increasing demand?

“I have yet to see a 100% renewable energy plan that is credible,” stated the Chair Matthew Rooney.

The panel that convened yesterday at the Conservative Party fringe event discussed the future of nuclear energy.

“It is fair to say large nuclear reactors are not doing very well in the nuclear world”, said the chair, pointing to Hinkley Point as a prime example.

“It is very difficult in liberalized economies to fund large nuclear reactor projects these days and that is where small modular reactors could come in.”

Small modular reactors (SMRs) offer the potential to provide scalable and reliable low carbon power and heat.

Rooney explained that the problem with large nuclear reactors is that like with all large infrastructure projects, they tend to go over budget, which is partly attributable to the fact that they build everything on site.

“When it comes to SMRs, it is the modular that is important rather than the small,” said Rooney.  

The advantage is that you build it in a factory you standardize the process, you replicate the design, which brings down cost over time.

This is why Rolls-Royce is investing in this technology, said David Orr, Director of Future Programmes and Technologies at Rolls Royce Nuclear.

The company is forecasting to have three factories in the UK, one for the primary vessels, one for mechanical electrical modules, one for civil engineering and civil construction markets.

“There are enough nuclear licence sites in the UK to be able to be able to deploy a fleet to give return on investment without having to go onto new sites. There is certainly enough public acceptance near these sites as well,” said David Orr.

He claimed that the fleet would create 15,000 sustainable highly skilled jobs. He also said that since it would be a national program, they will also be developing our own intellectual property, which “we know is vital to be able to retain long-term, highly skilled jobs in the UK.”

“Cost will be 1.6-2 million per station, so they are affordable for the domestic market and for export internationally. So, it is not just a way of securing out energy future, it is a way to create and retain great skills. And it is probably our last chance in a generation to do this,” he continued.

“SMRs it is not about affordability so much as finance-ability”, said the NIA CEO Tom Greatrex. The reactors have significantly lower financing costs due to their size and due to the fact that they have the ability to use infrastructure on sites that are around existing nuclear licence sites that aren’t identified for larger nuclear reactor developments, he explained.

“And of course, the exportability, which I think is vitally important, providing some real sustainable international growth and economic opportunity.”

“It has the potential to marry-up that need for secure and reliable power with an industrial, exportable, economic opportunity.”

Tom cautioned that when it comes to Brexit, we must ensure that the Government doesn’t do anything “that damages the potential of this enterprise.”

Research and development are a key concern post-Brexit, agreed the whole panel.

“Science and innovation is part of Britain’s future and one of our greatest assets”, said Dr Sarah Main.

“[The nuclear industry] really needs skilled workers. We do have a shortage of skilled people in this area and we have the capacity to be able to address that shortage if we change our education system to do so.

“When it comes to investment, investors need to see the long-term signals that involve backing science and innovation over multiple parliaments. We need an environment where business can make long term plans,” she said.

Sarah Main continued saying that in the context of high R&D intensive companies, they “thrive on the ecosystem in the UK between our academic excellence and our industrial opportunity.

“Through the process of Brexit and a new future into the UK we really need to consider quite carefully what we need to put in place to repatriate a regulatory framework that’s going to operate in the UK and allow us to innovate ahead of the curve with the rest of the world rather than simply follow along.”

The NIA CEO agreed, saying the nuclear industry is and always has been international.

“Everybody understands what the outcome of the referendum was and understands what the government needs to get to in the end point, but they must not do that in a way that unreasonably damages a lot of things.”