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 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!
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