Government moves forward with HTGRs

The government is seeking views on a proposal to explore high temperature gas reactors – HTGRs – as the most promising model for an advanced modular reactor demonstration programme.

HTGRs
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Call for Evidence, published on July 29, 2021, sets out the government’s suggested approach to building the first AMR for the programme, which is being backed with £170m for delivery in the early 2030s.

AMRs are typically smaller than conventional nuclear power stations, more flexible, and could be built at a fraction of a cost. As well as generating electricity, HTGRs will also generate low-carbon hydrogen and produce extremely high temperatures to power district heating networks by the 2040s.

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Around a third of the UK’s carbon emissions come from heat, with a significant portion from heavy industrial processes. By generating heat at between 500 and 950°C – higher than other types of AMR – the government believes HTGRs could cut emissions from processes such as cement, paper, glass and chemical production.

Ministers are inviting views from industry and the public on the government’s preference to explore the potential of HTGRs for its AMR demonstration project.

In a statement, energy minister Anne Marie Trevelyan, said: “While renewables like wind and solar will become an integral part of where our electricity will come from by 2050, they will always require a stable low-carbon baseload from nuclear.

“Advanced modular reactors are the next level of modern nuclear technology and have the potential to play a crucial role not only in tackling carbon emissions, but also in powering industry.”

There are six main types of AMR technology that could play a role in achieving net zero, with some potentially re-using spent nuclear materials as new fuel. With one of the highest temperature outputs, HTGRs have been singled out for the demonstrator programme.

AMRs selected by the Generation IV International Forum for further research and development:

  • gas-cooled fast reactor (GFR)
  • lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR)
  • molten salt reactor (MSR)
  • supercritical water-cooled reactor (SCWR)
  • sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR)
  • very high temperature gas reactor (VHTR/HTGR)

Fellow at the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, Dame Sue Ion, said: “This Advanced Modular Reactor demonstration plays to the UK strengths in nuclear fuel and gas cooled reactors in building a technology platform for HTGRs for the UK to exploit and potentially export internationally.”

Commenting on yesterday’s announcement, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association said: “We hope the government will move swiftly forward to agree a funding settlement and delivery timeline for a demonstrator this year.

“Britain has unparalleled expertise in gas-cooled reactor technology, and a strong supply chain ready to support further innovation. This announcement will help unlock AMRs’ potential to produce clean hydrogen as well as clean electricity for the gird. It is important, therefore, that the UK encourages the development of a range of AMR designs and adapts its regulatory framework to realise the full promise of this new generation of technology.

“However, what we need now is urgent action on a new financing model that ensures we can deliver nuclear, large and small, to secure our net zero future.”