Launch of Great British Nuclear heralded as ‘nuclear power renaissance’

The UK government expects a resurgence in domestic nuclear energy capabilities with the launch of Great British Nuclear (GBN), a body set up to deliver nuclear projects in Britain.

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Companies can now register their interest with GBN to participate in a competition to secure funding that supports the development of their products, including SMRs (small modular reactors) whose components are built in factories and assembled on-site.  

Once the initial stage is complete, GBN will down-select those technologies which have met the criteria, and then enter into discussions with those companies as part of an Invitation to Negotiate phase. The initial down-select will take place in the autumn.

In addition to supporting this emerging technology, the government said it remains committed to Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C and will work with GBN to consider the potential role of further large gigawatt-scale nuclear power plants.

“Today, as we open Great British Nuclear and the competition to develop cutting-edge small modular reactor technology, which could result in billions of pounds of public and private sector investment, we are seeing the first brush strokes of our nuclear power renaissance to power up Britain and grow our economy for decades to come,” energy security secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement.

As well as today’s GBN competition launch, the government also announced up to £77.1m of funding for companies to accelerate advanced nuclear business development in the UK and support advanced nuclear designs to enter UK regulation. According to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), this will maximise ‘the chance of small and advanced modular reactors being built during the next Parliament’.

Up to £58m of funding is being made available to fund the further development and design of a type of advanced modular reactor (AMR) and next generation fuel. AMRs operate at a higher temperature than SMRs and could provide high temperature heat for hydrogen and other industrial uses alongside nuclear power.

Winning projects of this latest phase of funding include up to £22.5m for Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation UK to further develop the design of a high temperature micro modular reactor, a type of AMR suited to UK industrial demands including hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel production. The National Nuclear Laboratory in Warrington is to receive up to £15m to accelerate the design of a high temperature reactor, following its success in Japan.

A further £22.3m from the Nuclear Fuel Fund will enable eight projects to develop new fuel production and manufacturing capabilities in the UK, including over £10.5m to Westinghouse Springfields nuclear fuel plant in Preston to manufacture more innovative types of nuclear fuel for UK and overseas customers; and over £1.2m to support MoltexFLEX to build and operate rigs for the development of molten salt fuel.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Andrew Storer, CEO of the Nuclear AMRC, said: “A clear plan to deliver small modular reactors will give business the confidence to invest in the sector, and help us build a clean and secure energy supply for the future. However, we still need to be clear how we will deliver our national target for 24GW of nuclear power by 2050.“We need to be working at a pace like we adopted during the pandemic to deliver vaccinations and ventilators. To deliver low-carbon power and ensure that Britain secures the huge economic opportunity here and overseas, we must invest in the supply chain to build manufacturing capability and capacity. I am disappointed this is not included in the funding announced today, but will continue to work hard with my team to continue our hugely beneficial plant and clear programme, and look to the government and GBN team to ensure further much-needed investment is brought forward as soon as possible.“We also urgently need to develop the skilled workforce we need to build and operate new nuclear plant, and accelerate project delivery. It’s vital that we work as one sector to look at capacity and investment across the whole nuclear industry, including decommissioning, defence and fusion. We must work much more efficiently than we have in the past, sharing resources, facilities and expertise across the industry, and embracing innovation to solve the skills challenge.”