The UK could realise long-term strategic benefits from taking a leading role in the development of small modular reactors (SMRs), delegates were told at a Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) conference in London this week. The country could harness SMRs to help it meet its own energy needs, but could also compete in the global market for the technology, they said.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in January issued a green paper outlining its vision for the country's industrial strategy, to which it has invited public responses.
Tom Wintle, deputy director for SMRs, decommissioning and waste at BEIS, highlighted four areas where SMRs could support the UK's post-Brexit industrial strategy. These are: building on existing strengths; driving growth; securing supplies of low-carbon energy; and driving exports through potential involvement in the international market for SMRs.
Wintle said the government remained committed to exploring the potential of SMRs through the competition it launched in March last year to gauge market interest in developing, commercialising and financing the technology. The public sector would need to enable SMR deployment by looking at ways of reducing barriers to siting, regulatory approvals and access to international markets, he said. The commercial case for SMRs must be "compelling" to attract private sector investment, and promises on cost reductions must be delivered, he said.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the NIA, said SMRs had a potential role in most of the 10 pillars outlined in the industrial strategy green paper. Industry needs to demonstrate to government that SMRs offer a means to make that strategy a reality, he said. SMRs could be complementary to large-scale nuclear plants in the UK, he said. He called for clarity from the government on whether the UK should aim to procure SMR technology to support its needs or should work towards developing the technology.
"It's really for government now at this stage to set where they want to go with it - that will determine what happens next," he said.
Charles Potter, director of reactor operations support at the UK's National Nuclear Laboratory, described how the UK could add value to an SMR program. The country is capable of developing, over a three to four-year period, an SMR design to a basic, or preliminary design level of maturity, he said. It could develop the intellectual property to build and maintain its SMR capability whilst developing an exportable product fit for both the domestic and overseas markets, he added.
Potter referred to a study by the Energy Technology Institute that identified 250 potential sites in the UK where SMRs could be deployed, including a small number of nuclear licensed sites already approved for new build. Sites were identified based on the need for baseload and load-following generation and for district heating.
John Idris Jones, chair of the Snowdonia Enterprise Zone, said Trawsfynydd, in Wales, would be a natural choice to build a first-of-a-kind SMR. He outlined North Wales' ambition to be at the heart of nuclear activities as part of a "great northern nuclear powerhouse" bringing together the nuclear industry and infrastructure of north-west England with activities in North Wales. These include the proposed construction of ABWRs at Wylfa Newydd on the isle of Anglesey, advanced manufacturing capabilities in the Deeside enterprise zone and R&D and development opportunities at Bangor University.
The Trawsfynydd site, already owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, is adjacent to a nuclear licensed site - the former Magnox nuclear power plant, which is undergoing decommissioning. The site has a "nuclear savvy" workforce already in place and a supportive community, he said, as well as local site and social infrastructure, including transport links, the availability of lake cooling for up to 700 MWe of generating capacity and grid connectivity.
Studies carried out against the criteria used by the government in its strategic site assessment process for nuclear new build has already shown the site is suitable for new build. There is support in the region for the proposition, he said.
Global supply chain
Mike Tynan, chief executive of the UK's Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre said the SMR supply chain must be thought of as a global, rather than an indigenous, industry. A domestic SMR supply chain would bring benefits to the UK, but the potential domestic market alone would not be sufficient for the volume of production and investment needed to realise the cost reductions from 'nth of a kind' production, he said. The supply chain must be competitive on the global market, he added. He warned against potential bottlenecks for resource deployment in the supply chain, with UK SMRs potentially being constructed in a similar timeframe to the planned large-scale nuclear reactors.
Nick Gaines, managing director of Ultra Electronics Control Systems - an investor and strategic partner of US-based SMR developer NuScale Power - said it was hard for industry to invest in SMR programs with a 15 to 25-year horizon, when usual boardroom investment decisions focus on a maximum horizon of five to 10 years. He said SMR supply chain companies should be prepared to compete in the global market rather than relying on a UK-based initiative.
"I would argue that you should just go out there and engage with the rest of the world, and compete, just like any other global business," he said.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News