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A big step forward in energy policy

By Iain Gray, Chief Executive, Technology Strategy Board

The announcement on 21 October of Britain’s first nuclear power station since Sizewell B heralds a resurgence in this area for UK companies. We already have world-class civil nuclear engineering expertise in this country as well as a proven track record of delivering large and complex projects like the Olympics. Now that we have confirmation of the first in a fleet of new stations, we can strengthen our own industrial base and showcase the UK’s engineering and innovation skills. From this platform, we will be able to go out and win more business across the world.

Nuclear energy has been going through a rocky patch recently, with a number of countries retiring their older reactors. Then of course, there was the disaster in Japan which turned consumer opinion around the world in a more negative direction. So the decision of the UK Government to persevere with this technology represents a bold and ambitious move to embed large-scale, low carbon generation here. To do so, it had to enter into a long term contract for power at a price significantly higher than today’s levels. Only time will tell if the economics work out. But it does make a significant step on the road towards security of supply for the UK.


OC Robotics ‘laser-snake’ snake-arm robot will be a valuable addition to the nuclear decommissioning market

Much of the focus has been on the investment from France and China. But there will be a substantial input from the UK too. It could be argued that this decision has not come a moment too soon. Those engineers who worked on previous UK nuclear power generation have not been replaced at scale. There are still specialist engineering businesses, of course, but without a home base, the supply chain would inevitably wither – or relocate abroad.

For the Technology Strategy Board, the rebuilding of our supply chain will be a priority. Without a healthy supply chain, there will be no way to bring in the smaller businesses that have so much to offer. It is vital for the future – and not just for nuclear but for engineering more generally – that we nurture new talent and rebuild our expertise in this area.

So, we are developing a funding call to help UK-based businesses take advantage of the opportunities that arise from this and future agreements.  We will be looking to support the development of innovative products and services for the primary (Tier 1) suppliers in the civil nuclear supply chain.

The focus will be very much on building a lasting supply chain in this country to service the needs of the industry. This initiative, in particular, aims to establish long-lasting business relationships in key areas such as construction, manufacturing, operation and maintenance.

While this future support will focus primarily on taking advantage of opportunities in the new build sector, it builds on our previous involvement in the sector. Earlier this year, we supported over 30 innovative projects aimed at the existing fleet of nuclear reactors. So the technologies we were looking for were mainly in the areas of life-extension, monitoring, maintenance and decommissioning.

Among the projects that secured funding was one led by OC Robotics (an SME based in Bristol). The project consortium includes NNL, TWI, ULO Optics and Laser Optical Engineering. ‘LaserSnake’ combines two highly innovative technologies – advanced robotics and lasers – to create a safe and cost-effective solution for the multi-million pound nuclear decommissioning market. The project will deliver a robust, re-usable, robot-controlled laser cutting technology that can be applied both in-air and underwater in confined and hazardous spaces to dismantle vessels, support structures, flasks and pipe work. 

By bringing small innovative SMEs, as well as research institutions, into the supply chain the UK’s nuclear industry gets access to some of the best new ideas as well as enjoying the fruits of the latest research in this area. All that can feed up to the larger, main contractors and suppliers working in this most specialised of engineering domains.

We would also expect the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, to play a central role in delivering innovation for the UK’s nuclear future.

The negotiations that led to the signature on the Hinkley Point contract were intensive and protracted. But now the deal is in place we can push on to make nuclear engineering capability the envy of the rest of the world.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Not much of a technological strategy to go with 50 year old, outdated LWRs, requiring 60 ft long x 20 ft dia pressure vessels with 8 ins wall thickness. Where's the UK's supply chain and machining capacity for this type of equipment.

    Can Mr Gray explain to me why the biggest no-brainer decision, ever place in front of a government, is being delayed yet again, as we speak.

    At zero risk and cost to we taxpayers, GE Hitachi are offering to burn our plutonium stockpile, on what is tantamount to a no-win, no-fee basis.

    The reactor is a Gen IV, IFR deisign. One option offered would render the plutonium useless as a bomb making material in only 5 years. From the fuel produced, the reactor will chug away, generating 622 MW of emission-free electricity for a further 50 or 60 years - not an insignificant contribution towards our carbon targets.

    This technology is scaled up from EBR-II which ran successfully for 30 years in the USA, before Clinton pulled the plug on it as payback to his green-lobby supporters.

    The reactor operates at atmospheric pressure with vessels, piping, pumps and valves in stainless-steel. The UK has the the technological expertise and manufacturing capacity to produce them in their entirety - as factory-built modules.

    Why doesn't the Technology Strategy Board up its efforts on a technological front that would revitalise the UK's nuclear industry to a level orders of magnitude higher backing the same-old, same-old technology?

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  • What an insult to British Engineers when the Government goes cap in hand to the French & Chinese to build us a power plant.
    How can we sell our Expertise to the world when our own government won't back us.

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  • I would like to introduce our project to you.
    The concept of using liquid air for stored capacity is not new. It is possibly the most environmentally desirable system being looked at. That said, there are basically three reasons it is not taken seriously:
    1. its current production cost is not competitive with fossil fuel because it has to use fossil fuel produced electricity to do the work of liquefaction and pumping and,
    2. it takes very large storage tanks on land to contain the amount of energy needed and,
    3. transporting it on land is costly.
    I believe our company Keuka Energy (, has addressed these problems in such a way that liquid air could well be the answer to bulk stored capacity that the utility industry has been looking for.
    We have been five years developing a Rimdrive technology that takes the power from the outer rim of a wind machine and not the central shaft. We believe that we are the first company that can show a lower cost of energy than that of fossil fuel systems. NREL (National Renewable Energy Lab.) calculator shows our floating offshore 12.5MW machine (that is under construction at our facility in Florida) will have an LCoE at 4.7 cents/KWh or $ 47/MWh. This puts it considerably lower than the $65.6 LCoE of an advanced combined cycle natural gas turbine.
    It appears, that by using this rimdrive floating wind machine driving compressors instead of generators, it would cut the produced cost of liquid air by about 65%. And, using the floating platform that supports the wind machines for storage tanks, will take away the cost of the land needed for land based storage tanks and transportation by sea is always much cheaper than by land.

    The scenario would look something like this:

    Large offshore rimdrive wind machines spinning air compressors would produce the liquid air and store it in their floating cryogenic platform. Tankers similar to LNG tankers would transport it from the platform to land where power plants would use it to produce electricity as needed.

    I believe that there is a good possibility that renewable energy in the next 20 to 40 years can completely replace fossil fuel as a source of energy, and do it without the need to increase the current cost of electricity to the consumer or need any governmental incentives or grants.

    Anyone interested in learning more about this project can contact us and we would be pleased to pass on to you a list of our R&D findings over the last five years that support the reasoning behind our confidence that Liquid air could well be the stored energy of the future.

    Herbert Williams
    Chief Technology Officer of Keuka Energy

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