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A UK Nuclear solution for Net Zero

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: ISCF, Support

Born the son of a coal miner in South Yorkshire in the '60s, I grew up in a region then dominated by deep mining and heavy industry.

I sometimes comment that I was the “son of a Panda” but of course that was the coal dust around my father’s eyes.

The UK Coal Industry with all its risks and damaging consequences no longer exists and even now three decades later the manufacturing capability of the region has not recovered. The need for energy and power to support economies and lift huge tracts of the world’s populations out of poverty, remains and continues to grow.

The Committee on Climate Change (May 2019) forecast that by 2050 the need for energy in the UK will likely near double what it is today.

Energy production will need to switch towards low carbon sources with an estimated 40-55 GW of extra low carbon electricity needed to power the UK.

How do we supply this fundamental demand?

What we need is a mixed system containing significant use of renewables such as wind, wave and solar, along with firm low carbon power which can be provided by nuclear if this can be made affordable. This need is reinforced by a recent assessment by Energy Systems Catapult (March 2020), which identified:

the need and potential for a significant small nuclear contribution to the future energy mix in electricity, heat and hydrogen.

Can we deliver this demand at an affordable price?

The UK Nuclear Industry is recognised and well respected around the world and currently supports 80,000 jobs across the UK.

The UK has led the world in many aspects of civil nuclear power since 1958 when Calder Hall in West Cumbria first provided power to the grid. As I write this on any given day, nuclear power stations in the UK are providing up to 40% of all the low carbon power to the nation. The carbon intensity of power generated by nuclear is much lower than coal, gas or biomass and is continuous and uninterrupted by the weather, the waves or the seasons.

So why is there not more nuclear in the mix today?

Simply put, it’s perceived as expensive and difficult to deliver. It is widely assumed that nuclear power must be delivered through large and complex projects requiring large sums of investment across a long period before they begin to generate power. For example, Hinkley Point C, currently under construction, will generate 3.2 GW, it is expected to cost circa. £20 billion and take around 10 years to construct.

But there is an alternative option.

Thinking differently to deliver affordable low carbon nuclear power   

The UK has the ability to use innovative ideas to deliver real and lasting nuclear technology, at a low-cost price, helping to achieve net zero by 2050.  We can deliver nuclear power stations built as a standardised and repeatable product that are delivered using advanced manufacturing design and construction techniques which drive down the product cost.

Working with colleagues in government, we are bringing together leading industrial companies, led by Rolls-Royce, to deliver these innovative ideas, with the support of the UK’s leading innovation centres, national labs and academic institutions. This team is working together to deliver a UK Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology and industry, developing a lasting capability which can be vital to our delivery of net zero.

An investment from Her Majesty's Government (HMG) of £215 millon will unlock £300 million from industry and investors. This investment will help develop and deliver the foundations of a UK SMR Industry and all its supporting services and systems. This  'new' industrial capability will lay the foundations for future developments in Co-Generation including the provision and use of ‘green’ Hydrogen, Synthetic Liquid Fuels and other challenging areas of the pathway to decarbonisation.

The plan and the payoff

UKRI and industry have a shared goal to design, develop and license a product that can be manufactured and repeatedly delivered with confidence. The UK SMR includes many design innovations, with the most important one being the concept of a “seismic raft". This sits below the power station and effectively isolates it from the ground on which it stands. This means that everything above the ground is designed once and “plugged” into the foundation. The UK SMR is designed to be made in factories and the same factories are being designed to match the product. The key principle of the UK SMR is design once and deploy many times.

The UK SMR is a conduit for innovation and growth across sectors including; construction, manufacturing, digital technologies; a route through which industrial growth is supported and enabled in the regions.

Analysis predicts that in the near term the programme will support 1200 jobs in high-value manufacturing, engineering and construction through 2024, creating more than £1 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) in the UK economy. This will position the UK as a leader in the small nuclear market which estimates to exceed £300 billion. A fraction of this market, if captured, can grow a UK SMR sector to support up to 40,000 jobs in the UK for many decades.

Many of these roles will be opportunities for newly trained engineers, technicians and manufacturers in regions of the UK most in need of long-term economic growth.

My Mission

My father never wanted to see me follow in his footsteps into the coal mines, and he didn’t understand climate change. But he wanted a secure future for his son and in times of great hardship funded my education. I’m grateful and I hope he would be proud of my efforts, but I’m not finished.

We have a Product.  We have a Plan.  We have a great Team.  It's now time to deliver!

Image courtesy of Rolls Royce of a proposed small modular reactor.

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  1. Comment by Michael Kenward, OBE posted on

    Er, it is Hinkley C, not Hinckley C, although to some of us oldies it is Hinkley Point C. But thank you for not using the silly and meaningless "Advanced Nuclear Technologies" label in the latest policy paper.

    • Replies to Michael Kenward, OBE>

      Comment by julieervine posted on

      Hi Michael, Thank you for your comment and for pointing out the typo, which I have now corrected.

  2. Comment by Valerie Havard posted on

    Why can't a way be found to store power from wind, wave and solar power (which are not detrimental to the environment) instead of investing in more nuclear power with the long term detrimental affect that causes, especially relating to disposal at the end of its life.
    Wouldn't it be better investing money to have every new house fitted with solar panels, and to help people make their houses more energy efficient (I am not at all impressed with the Green Deal, which doesn't seem to be at all helpful to most people).

  3. Comment by Charles M Henderson posted on

    When I grew up on the South Yorkshire coalfield, life was tough. We had no gas or electricity and no access to low-cost fuels. Winters were cold and dark and I guess we were acclimatised to be fairly tough. We need to find sustainable futures that will meet human needs in a balanced way. The industrial revolution induced rapid change much of it now destroyed or repurposed. Can we be smarter with the lessons of the past? Can we balance supply and demand for energy by a coordinated approach to both? To do that we need to look beyond the re-election horizons of political leaders for sustainability, recognise that there will be change, and not rely on the next unknown innovation to mop up the debris from the last cycle. We need Nuclear but not at any price.