UK government review backs subsidies for mini nuclear plants

Mini nuclear plants could be mass-produced and assembled far more quickly than larger scale atom-smashers. [Shutterstock]

Britain should offer developers of mini nuclear plants subsidies similar to those made available to the offshore wind industry, an independent review commissioned by the government said on Tuesday (7 August).

Britain needs to invest in new power generating capacity to replace aging coal and nuclear plants that are due to close in the 2020s, and is seeking more low carbon options to help meet its emission reduction targets.

The government has been investigating whether mini nuclear plans – so called small modular reactors (SMR) – could offer a solution, and whether the industry could help boost much needed exports as Britain leaves the European Union.

UK renewables boosted as costs fall below price of nuclear power

Offshore windfarms are to be built for a record low price in the UK early next decade, after developers bid far more aggressively than expected for a multimillion-pound pot of government subsidies. EURACTIV’s partner The Guardian reports.

The government “should establish an advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative (as it did with offshore wind) to bring forward existing and new manufacturing capability,” said the report by the Expert Finance Working Group on Small Nuclear Reactors.

Government support for offshore wind has enabled that industry to drive down costs, and reduce subsidies.

The report also said the nascent SMR industry could provide a boost for British manufacturing and exports.

“There is a real short-term opportunity for the UK as supply chains are yet to be established for small nuclear projects (unlike large nuclear with established supply chains largely outside the UK),” the report said.

EU court dismisses Austrian case against UK nuclear plant

A European Union court on Thursday (12 July) dismissed a case brought by Austria against EU-approved subsidies for a new nuclear power plant in Britain.

Rolls Royce which hopes to build SMRs in Britain as part of a consortium, said the export market could be worth as much as €446 billion.

SMRs use existing or new nuclear technology scaled down to a fraction of the size of larger plants and would be able to produce around a tenth of the electricity created by large-scale projects.

The mini plants, which could be deployed by 2030 according to the review, would be made in factories, with parts small enough to be transported on trucks and barges where they could be assembled much more quickly than their large-scale counterparts.

Britain’s nuclear energy minister Richard Harrington said the government would consider the review’s findings.

The review “recognises the opportunity presented by small nuclear reactors and shows the potential for how investors, industry and Government can work together to make small nuclear reactors a reality,” he said in a statement.

Rolls-Royce has launched a bid to build SMRs as part of a UK consortium with Amec Foster Wheeler, Nuvia, Arup and Laing O’Rourke, with the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Another group to express an interest is NuScale, majority owned by U.S. group Fluor Corp.

Nuclear agency chief: Small reactors ‘might be a game-changer’ for Europe

The political climate for nuclear energy is “not very positive” in Europe, admits William D. Magwood, and the industry is currently shifting towards Russia and Asia as a result. But the emergence of small modular reactors (SMR) built in factories might slow down the process, he argues.

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