Firms offered £13m for nuclear power innovations

British engineering firms are being called on to propose ideas for innovative technology that could help grow the UK’s nuclear power supply chain.

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is offering up to £13m to help UK firms develop innovations for the nuclear energy sector, a move intended to help British industry reap more of the economic rewards from the creation of the next generation of power stations.

The main manufacturing contracts for the first of these plants – Hinkley Point C in Somerset – have gone to French firms, partly as a result of the disappearance of the UK’s capabilities in nuclear technology.

Derek Allen, the TSB’s lead technologist for energy, admitted that it was probably too late to help more British firms benefit from the Hinkley Point contracts but that its funding could lead to more products and services for future power stations and for export.

‘We’re trying to stimulate innovation and develop a robust and innovative supply chain,’ he told The Engineer.

‘We particularly want to attract SMEs [small and medium enterprises] into that market too. It’s very much driven by the big boys at the moment so we’re very keen to engage SMEs with firms that are already in the supply chain.’

The TSB is appealing for firms from across the economy – not just those from the energy sector – to put forward ideas that could make a difference in the construction, manufacturing, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear power stations.

This is the third competition of this kind the TSB has run for nuclear technology in the last few years. Last year’s scheme saw £18m was invested in 35 projects, such as the development of OC Robotics “snake” arm for remote handling in decommissioning.

There are two strands to the new competition: early-stage ideas can receive up to £150,000 for a one-year feasibility study; more developed innovations can receive up to £3m for three-year projects.

Both strands will support collaborations between small and large businesses and academic groups but the feasibility projects must be led by SMEs.

Allen said that although the UK’s new nuclear programme had been on the cards for a number of years, the TSB had only begun running funding competitions more recently because SMEs needed certainty that new power stations would be built before they could attract investment.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will also provide funds for the competition.