Project to jump start nuclear manufacturing in the UK

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A new project is aiming to bolster the UK’s ability to manufacture components for future nuclear power generation.

The New Nuclear Build and Manufacturing (NNUMAN) initiative will be delivered by the universities of Manchester and Sheffield with £4m of funding from EPSRC to research innovative manufacturing technologies.

A recent House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee report — Nuclear Research and Development Capabilities — identified insufficient research and development capacity as a potential threat to the UK’s ability to produce power from nuclear energy.

It even warned of the UK losing its status as an ‘informed customer’ in buying and implementing nuclear technology from other countries.

‘Since the heyday of nuclear build in the 1970s, the industry has been stalled; it hasn’t been able to invest in new manufacturing methods and the world has moved on obviously,’ said Mike Burke, director of research and technology, at the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC).

‘What we’re trying to do is a jump start on nuclear manufacturing [that will] allow us to have methods that can be used more effectively and more efficiently that can be sold to the plant operators at lower price — and do that in the UK.’

The idea is that NNUMAN will act as the research engine for nuclear manufacturing, driving technologies up the readiness scale. The best manufacturing processes will be taken forward to prototype in the Nuclear AMRC and the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) to enable UK companies to benefit from new methods and use them in the future.

‘We want the maximum efficiency for our manufacturers with the guaranteed performance and safety for the plant operators and also for the people that are going to consume the electricity supply,’ Burke said.

The announcement of NNUMAN, however, comes on the same day that RWE and E.ON effectively halted their plans for new nuclear build in the UK by abandoning the Horizon Nuclear Power joint venture.

‘It’s obviously disappointing but I think it does point to the need for lower and more reliable costs in manufacturing,’ Burke added.

In separate news, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has announced that up to £15m is to be invested in research, development and knowledge transfer to stimulate innovation and support growth in the civil nuclear power sector.

The investment — through the TSB, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and EPSRC — will fund feasibility projects, collaborative research and development and knowledge transfer partnerships that stimulate innovation and strengthen the UK supply chain.