The delay in progressing with Britain’s nuclear power plant programme is leading to calls for a move towards developing small modular reactors instead.

With Hinkley Point’s development seemingly postponed for at least the next couple of months, engineering business and industry experts are pressing the government to fund research into the smaller models that could be built in the UK and taken from factory to site on the back of a lorry.

The government has agreed to study the feasibility of the technology after a committee of MPs called for more research in March.
NuScale SMR
In contrast to the £24.5bn required for Hinkley Point, earmarked to open in 2023, an SMR could cost less than £1bn. Each unit would have up to 300 MW power and several could be deployed together to create mini-power stations. The two Areva reactors being installed at Hinkley have capacity of 1650MW.

Sheffield University has already begun work with Nuscale, a US company, on a design.

There could be a “very significant market for SMRs”, said the National Nuclear Laboratory, a state body, in a report in December. The UK could gain a lead in the technology and a market that could be worth £250bn-£400bn between now and 2035.

Dr Jonathan Cobb of the World Nuclear Association told Power Engineering International, British companies will be a vital and significant part of the supply chain for current new build proposals  based on established reactor designs and they could also benefit from future SMR new build projects.

“Succesful development of SMRs could expand the range of nuclear generation technologies, increasing the options and applications available, so further research should be encouraged.”

“The UK needs to start its nuclear build programme now to help replace its existing fleet of large power plants.  If SMRs live up to their potential they could play an important role in the long term decarbonising of the UK’s electricity supply.”“With little or no intellectual property for the UK in the proposed new nuclear stations in the UK, an SMR programme would create significant long-term value for UK companies,” said Mike Tynan, chief executive of the University of Sheffield’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

The MPs on the energy and climate change committee concluded in March that “the commercial viability of small modular reactors remains unclear” but they were “an attractive proposition”.

The government says its priority remains with large new reactors, but its study, due next year, would “address the remaining technical challenges and identify what benefits to the UK there could be from SMR deployment”.