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Energy Systems Catapult has released the full technical report from the Energy Technologies Institute Nuclear Cost Drivers (ETI NCD) project. This report demonstrates a credible path for nuclear energy to become a cost-competitive net zero solution alongside renewables.

The release of the full ETI NCD technical report comes almost 2,5 years after the summary report was published in April 2018.

The full study now provides more evidence that an intentional and determined commitment to proven best practices around design standardisation combined with timely and effective programmatic sequencing – including building multiple units on a single site – can deliver highly cost-competitive nuclear new build.

According to the report, global experience shows how commitment to a standardised nuclear programme can sustain the learning curve and trigger a virtuous circle of economic performance as supply chain capabilities are developed, and perceived technological, project delivery, and financial risks fall.

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Achieving net zero

In addition, these technical and organisational improvements could accelerate the cost-effective deployment of more advanced nuclear technologies, such as small modular reactors.

Mike Middleton, practice manager nuclear, UK Energy Systems Catapult, said: “The evidence-based study of historic, contemporary, and future nuclear power projects, shows that there are a small number of understandable factors that drive the cost of nuclear plants.

“The analysis also highlights that there are several consistent characteristics shared amongst low cost plants and different common characteristics shared across high cost power plants. If understood and addressed, they can reduce the cost of new nuclear projects.”

Middleton makes it clear that low- carbon, low- cost new nuclear energy is achievable if a sector-wide, integrated cost reduction programme that builds on global best practices is introduced. “An effective cost reduction programme could also reduce the duration and risk of nuclear projects, changing the perception of nuclear construction risk and reducing financial costs,” added Middleton.

Eric Ingersoll, managing partner, LucidCatalyst, said: “Achieving net zero across the whole economy by 2050 will be a Herculean effort… This is why we need to apply the same determination and commitment to cost reduction for nuclear energy as we have demonstrated successfully for other technologies like offshore wind…

“Our study shows that there is a credible path available to realise competitiveness and increased rates of deployment for nuclear energy also. In other words: nuclear doesn’t need to be expensive if we take the right approach.”

Tim Stone, chairman, Nuclear Industry Association, said: “…The powerful work set out in this report shows that the UK absolutely can deliver a major contribution to that goal through nuclear power built to time and cost and what has to happen to make that a reality – all of which is entirely within our reach. There is no excuse now for policymakers and investors to doubt this can be achieved.”

The initial ETI NCD summary report – published in April 2018 – was cited as the basis for achievable cost reduction in the UK Nuclear Sector Deal.
The findings also informed the MIT Future of Nuclear Study (2018); the OECD-NEA’s Unlocking Reductions in the Construction Costs of Nuclear: A Practical Guide for Stakeholders (2020), and Energy System Catapult’s Nuclear for Net Zero (2020).

Read the full ETI Nuclear Cost Drivers Project – Full Technical Report.