SMRs could 'help secure' post-Brexit nuclear industry

08 May 2017

The UK should focus on developing small modular reactors (SMRs) to secure its nuclear industry after the country's exit from the European Union, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). In its report Leaving the EU, the Euratom Treaty Part 2: A Framework for the Future, issued on 5 May, IMechE says SMRs could "present the UK with key export opportunities and return the country to the international nuclear reactor supply arena".

In the document, which follows the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee report into the risks to the nuclear industry posed by Brexit, IMechE has outlined "possible pathways" the UK government could take to leaving the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) regarding key issues such as safeguarding, Nuclear Cooperation Agreements, research and development, and regulation.

It also recommends the UK develops its own 'safeguarding office', to ensure the country conforms to international rules on safety and non-proliferation. It adds, however, the UK should remain an associate member of Euratom for the specific purpose of R&D.

Jenifer Baxter, IMechE head of energy and environment and lead author of the report, said the BEIS Select Committee was right to highlight the significant risks posed to the country's nuclear industry by Brexit.

"The UK's departure from the EU and Euratom is likely to be complicated and difficult, but it also presents the country with an opportunity to reshape its nuclear industry and once again become a world-leading innovator in nuclear technology. Political parties need to outline their vision for the future of the UK nuclear industry as part of their manifestos," Baxter said.

"In the 1950s the UK was the first country to develop a civil nuclear program, but we have since fallen behind countries such as China, France and Canada. Pushing ahead on the demonstration and commercialisation of SMRs would be a key way for the UK to once again become a world leader in the field. This would not only help to meet future energy demand, but also to develop skills, local employment and build future export business."

The government should look to replace mechanisms currently provided through Euratom which allow for international trade and provide assurances on nuclear safety, nuclear proliferation and environmental issues, she said. It should set up a UK Safeguarding Office to ensure the country conforms to international rules on safety and non-proliferation, but should look to remain as an associate member of Euratom for the specific purpose of R&D to secure the future of projects such as the Joint European Torus (JET) project in Oxfordshire, she added.

The government should include within the UK's nuclear sector strategy a long-term commitment to nuclear R&D programs, including, a pathway for developing SMRs, according to the report. This should be achieved through the SMR competition, followed by opportunities for demonstration and commercialisation. The government, in collaboration with the Welsh Government, should support making the existing nuclear licensed site at Trawsfynydd in North Wales available as a potential location for the building and demonstration testing of an SMR following a comprehensive site selection process, it added.

The report is a follow up to Leaving the EU: the Euratom Treaty released in February.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News