UK aims to boost nuclear sector with funding package

The UK showed determination to up its nuclear game this week with the announcement of new funding measures for the sector.

Thursday’s announcement from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the government would provide funding over the next three years to “help exploit the potential for the UK to become a world leader in developing the next generation of nuclear technologies”.

The funding will support R&D, feasibility assessment and accelerated development for advanced and small modular reactor (SMRs) designs. à‚ Up to à‚£56m ($75.5m) will be provided for R&D over three years, with stage 1 comprising à‚£4m for feasibility studies and à‚£7m to “further develop the capability of nuclear regulators”.

The government will also support early access to regulators to build the capability and capacity needed to assess and licence small reactor designs, and will establish an expert finance group to advise how small reactor projects could raise private investment in the country, BEIS said.

And the second phase of the government’s Nuclear Innovation Programme will launch soon, the department added, with up to à‚£8m provided for work on safety and security measures and studies in advance fuels.

Business secretary Greg Clark noted the concurrent announcement of à‚£86m in funding for fusion research aimed at establishing a national fusion technology platform at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Science Centre.

“The new investment will reinforce the UK’s world-leading fusion research and development capability, and allow UK firms to compete for up to a further à‚£1bn of international contracts for fusion technologies, including for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER),” Clark added. ITER, the successor project to the EU’s Joint European Torus (JET) reactor in Culham, England, is currently under construction in France.

And, speaking at the Nuclear Industry Association’s annual conference this week, energy minister Richard Harrington set out the next steps to allow large new nuclear projects to apply for planning consent after 2025.

He also indicated that the government would launch a consultation on a long-term nuclear waste management strategy, with a view to development of a multi-billion-pound geological disposal facility.

The measures were cautiously welcomed by the nuclear sector, although key players said further certainty is needed.

Tim Yeo, chair of trade group New Nuclear Watch Europe (NNWE), said the announcements, “while welcome in many respects, do little to solve the immediate challenge facing new nuclear projects in the UK”.

“Negotiating a competitively priced strike-price, which must come in under the much criticized Hinkley Point C deal, is a red line for consumers and government officials,” he added.

“The easiest way to achieve this is for government to provide financial support, either through a direct equity stake or by way of loan, in future new build projects. Lowering the cost of capital for nuclear developers dramatically cuts the cost of electricity for the benefit of consumers. This will also give a strong signal that the UK is serious about reviving its nuclear energy industry and continuing to cut emissions.”

And Justin Bowden, national secretary for energy with the GMB union, welcomed the announcement on SMRs as “positive” but said the government “must now drive this agenda and provide further funding and certainty for the nuclear industry if it is to fulfil its obligations to the British public of a safe, secure and reliable power supply.”à‚ 


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