UK government nuclear funding targets small modular reactors

In an effort to drive economic growth, create new jobs and support its ambition to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 the UK government has announced £40m of funding to develop next generation nuclear energy technology.

Three quarters of the funding is targeted at three separate advanced modular reactor projects (AMRs) which are exploring the development of smaller power station reactors that can be built in a factory environments and transported to remote locations.

These include fusion reactor technology under development by Oxfordshire firm Tokamak Energy; the development of a lead-cooled fast reactors (a type of fission reactor) by Westinghouse in Lancashire; and U-Battery’s small high temperature gas-cooled fission reactor.

modular reactors
Westinghouse LFR reactor. Image: Westinghouse

The remaining £10m will be invested into unlocking smaller research, design, and manufacturing projects to create up to 200 jobs.

These projects include an offsite modular reactor construction demonstrator being developed by U-Battery; Babcock’s AWESIM nuclear manufacturing project; and an £8m initiative at Sheffield Forgemasters looking at large scale section electron beam welding.  The remaining £5m will be put to strengthening the UK’s nuclear regulatory regime, ensuring it remains one of the most robust and safest in the world as the UK looks to develop and deploy advanced nuclear technologies.

Commenting on the funding minister for Business and Industry, Nadhim Zahawi, said: “Advanced modular reactors are the next step in nuclear energy and have the potential to be a crucial part of tackling carbon emissions and climate change.” 

Whilst the investment has been broadly welcomed, some have warned that it would be dangerous to lose sight of the importance of larger scale projects like Sizewell C.

Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary of the Prospect union said: “We face an impending energy gap however which can only be met if we also get going on the proven technology of larger scale projects like that at Sizewell C. The window of opportunity to safeguard jobs, invest in local communities and meet our low carbon goals is closing. It’s time for the government to unblock the system and give unequivocal support to all forms of new nuclear as part of a whole systems approach to achieving net zero so that these power stations are generating clean energy and good jobs as soon as possible.”

Do you welcome the government’s investment in AMR technology? Do you think small scale nuclear is a distraction from critical large scale projects? Or perhaps you think that nuclear shouldn’t be part of our future energy mix at all. These are the questions we put to you in last week’s poll, the results of which are illustrated below.

This poll was carried out between July 14 – July 21, 2020 and received 670 votes