New support for next-generation nuclear technology

The government has launched a new package of support for the next generation of reactor technology, including funding to develop technologies for advanced modular reactors.

Details have also been released of the proposed nuclear sector deal, part of the UK’s new industrial strategy.

The government is offering funding over the next three years to support research and development into innovative advanced and small modular reactors, and to assess their feasibility and accelerate the development of promising designs.

The new government support includes up to £56 million funding for a two-stage advanced modular reactor (AMR) research programme.

In the first stage, companies and research institutions can bid for a share of £4 million funding for AMR feasibility projects through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). Up to £40 million follow-on funding may then be made available to projects which can demonstrate clear value for money.

The Knowledge Transfer Network is hosting a briefing event on the AMR funding call on Tuesday 12 December in London – register to attend, or for the free webcast.

The government also released the techno-economic assessment of small modular reactors (SMRs), part of the previous support programme for UK SMR development, which has now closed.

Other new measures include:

  • Up to £7 million funding to further develop the capability of nuclear regulators to support and assess advanced nuclear technologies.
  • £86 million for the UK Atomic Energy Authority to establish a new Nuclear Fusion Technology Platform.
  • An expert finance group to advise how small reactor projects could raise private investment in the UK.
  • A second phase of the Nuclear Innovation Programme, including up to £8 million for work on modern safety and security methodologies and studies in advanced fuels.
  • A consultation on updating the planning framework for new gigawatt-scale nuclear power stations.
  • Two consultations on the proposed Geological Disposal Facility.

Speaking at the Nuclear Industry Association’s annual conference, energy minister Richard Harrington said: “As we set out in our industrial strategy, the nuclear sector has a key role to play in increasing productivity and driving clean growth across the country. Nuclear is a vital part of our energy mix, providing low carbon power now and into the future so today’s package of new measures will help to boost innovation and provide greater clarity on our future plans.”

sector deal graphic

Details of the proposed nuclear sector deal were unveiled by the Nuclear Industry Council (NIC), a strategic advisory body comprising industry and government representatives. The Nuclear AMRC is a member of the NIC.

The proposed sector deal aims to maximise the potential for the nuclear sector to achieve the aims of the national industrial strategy. Proposals to deliver the maximum economic value to the UK include:

  • A new national supply chain programme, including demand modelling, to be delivered by the Nuclear AMRC.
  • Support for the development of new advanced capabilities through partnerships on modular manufacturing, advanced construction, equipment qualification, and control and instrumentation.
  • Clarity on future trade arrangements and support for exports, including a nuclear trade strategy.

Download the NIC nuclear sector deal proposals (pdf).

 

New projects tackle challenges of large-scale manufacturing

The Nuclear AMRC is leading two new R&D projects to address fundamental challenges in nuclear manufacturing.

The Inform and Simple projects, backed by government funding of almost £2.5 million, will investigate two contrasting approaches to producing large-scale nuclear components. Inform aims to improve the process of moving large parts between multiple machines, while Simple aims to do more operations on a single platform.

Professor Steve Jones, chief technology officer of the Nuclear AMRC, says: “Simple and Inform are based on the two different philosophies of manufacturing large high-value components – taking the part to the machine, and taking the machine to the part. Both projects aim to provide significant improvements to UK productivity, potentially cutting manufacturing time and cost by half for a variety of large nuclear components.

“By developing innovative approaches to the fundamental challenges of manufacturing, these projects will help the UK’s nuclear supply chain to compete globally. These technologies could also provide major benefits to other high-value manufacturing sectors, such as offshore renewables or oil & gas.”

The Inform project (intelligent fixtures for optimised and radical manufacture) will develop an adaptive fixturing system to ease the movement of large parts around a factory, and ensure precision throughout forging, machining, welding, inspection and assembly.

The project will develop a through-life fixture which can hold large components while they undergo a range of operations, and facilitate movement between tools. With sensors linked to actuators and manipulators, the fixture will automatically adjust its grip to minimise distortion during movement and manufacturing.

The fixturing technology will be demonstrated on large cylindrical parts representing a two-thirds scale replica of a mid-range reactor pressure vessel.

The Nuclear AMRC is leading the project, backed by around £1.1 million project funding, with partners include fixturing specialist MetLase, Sheffield Forgemasters, Cambridge Vacuum Engineering, NPL and TWI.

The funding will support collaborative R&D over 20 months, and follows an initial three-month feasibility study by the Nuclear AMRC. Ultimately, the project aims to cut cost and time for manufacturing large complex nuclear components on a series of dedicated platforms by at least 50 per cent.

Moving more efficiently between platforms isn’t the only answer to the challenges of large-scale manufacturing, however.

Simple platform concept

The second project, Simple (single manufacturing platform environment), aims to integrate a range of manufacturing operations onto a single machining platform. Supported by £1.35 million project funding, the Nuclear AMRC will lead a research consortium including two of its sister centres within the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the Advanced Forming Research Centre and AMRC with Boeing, as well as the University of Sheffield physics department, TWI and Peak NDT.

In the first phase, the partners will develop an integrated welding and monitoring system which combines a range of sensors and testing tools with an automated arc welding head. This will allow automated in-process inspection of welds, improving quality and reducing the risk of weld failure leading to costly scrapping or rework.

Further development could then integrate this tool with a comprehensive selection of machining, cladding and inspection heads on a single large manufacturing platform. By combining conventional and advanced techniques onto a single platform, the project aims to achieve cost and time savings of at least 50 per cent for a range of complex fabrications.

Simple will focus on large components measuring at least two metres such as pressure vessel sections, large valve casings and decommissioning waste containers.

The Simple and Inform projects are funded by the Department for Business, Energy & Industry Strategy (BEIS) through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) managed by Innovate UK.

Both projects are supported by a range of nuclear industry partners – including reactor developers and operators, and decommissioning site owners – who will ensure the research is addressing industry challenges. The results will be shared with UK industry, including the Fit For Nuclear network of companies from along the supply chain.

Either of the two approaches may prove more beneficial for different components, and elements from both projects could be combined for specific applications to maximise productivity.

Demand model to match nuclear manufacturers with work

The Nuclear AMRC and Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) are working together to map future contract opportunities in the nuclear market, and help match manufacturers with relevant work packages.

The Nuclear AMRC has secured funding from Innovate UK, through the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, to create a robust model of future demand for UK nuclear manufacturing. The model will help manufacturers identify work packages which they can bid for, and allow R&D and support to be focused on areas of the greatest value to the UK supply chain.

The demand model will build on work carried out by NIA industrial advisors Glen Little and Chris Savage over the past year to create an initial database of future contract opportunities across the nuclear sector, including new build, decommissioning and naval.

“Our work to build a picture of the demand profile for new nuclear plants and detailed work packages was a necessary first step to understanding what future opportunities will look like for the UK’s supply chain,” says Savage.

“The next stage will be to match these against the capabilities of UK companies, so we can identify where the opportunities are for the UK and to design targeted interventions where required.”

The initial project will focus on particular commodity requirements for a representative new build project. The modelling methodology can then be extended to cover the full range of commodities and components for the new build programme, as well as the requirements of the decommissioning and submarine programmes.

“The demand model will give us visibility of the supply chain opportunities for the next 20 to 30 years, which will allow us to match the best suppliers to those opportunities,” says Helen Arthur, supply chain development programme manager at the Nuclear AMRC. “It will provide a long-term view of the schedule for the major nuclear programmes, and make sure that suppliers are ready to bid for work packages when they go out to tender.”

The work could also provide valuable information to inform government about where strategic interventions from Whitehall can help address capability gaps in the UK’s nuclear supply chain.

The NIA has also joined the Nuclear AMRC as a tier one member. The two organisations will work closely together to share knowledge on the nuclear industry, focusing on demand modelling and other initiatives that will benefit the whole UK supply chain.

virtual demand model

Virtual demand modelling

The Nuclear AMRC’s visualisation specialists are combining demand model data with a virtual model of a complete reactor system, to create an interactive and intuitive tool for supply chain development.

The prototype system (pictured above) combines a generic reactor design with historic market information about which UK manufacturers have the capabilities to produce each component. The detailed 3D virtual model allows the reactor to be broken down into its sections, components and commodity types, and identifies suppliers capable of producing each system.

Research engineer Craig Hamer says the vision is to integrate the visualisation tool with real reactor designs, live data of supply chain capability and capacity, and the demand model data being developed in collaboration with the NIA. That will give developers, suppliers and other stakeholders an intuitive, interactive tool for understanding specifications, identifying potential supply chain partners, and showcasing domestic involvement in new build projects.

The prototype system has been demonstrated at industry events including a High Value Manufacturing Catapult reception at the House of Commons.

Civil nuclear worth £6.4 billion to UK economy

A new study shows that the UK’s civil nuclear sector contributed £6.4 billion to the national economy last year – equivalent to the aerospace manufacturing industry.

The report also finds that the civil nuclear industry’s 65,000 employees are among the most productive workforces in the country.

The first Nuclear Activity Report, compiled by Oxford Economics and commissioned by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), examines the economic impact of the civil nuclear power industry and its supply chains.

It finds that the sector’s economic impact increases to £12.4 billion and 155,000 jobs when the sector’s spend in the supply chain and wages spent by employees are taken into account. This includes around £650 million of indirect impact in the manufacturing and construction sectors.

NIA economic impact

The report highlights the role played by the Nuclear AMRC’s Fit For Nuclear and Civil Nuclear Sharing in Growth programmes in helping UK manufacturers enter and succeed in the nuclear manufacturing supply chain.

To date, around 630 organisations have taken the initial F4N assessment, with more than 130 being granted F4N. Participating companies showcased in the report include heat exchanger manufacturer Heatric, pump manufacturer Hayward Tyler, and steel specialist Outokumpu Stainless Distribution.

The report also highlights the importance of research and innovation within the nuclear sector, including the Nuclear AMRC’s collaboration with member company Cammell Laird to develop modular manufacturing methods for the sector. Innovations from R&D activity diffuse throughout the economy, the report notes, providing benefits far wider than the sector itself and raising productivity across the economy.

Andrew Storer, chief executive officer of the Nuclear AMRC, commented: “This study emphasises the important contribution of the UK supply chain capability and capacity. As we replace existing generating plants with new technology, it is vital we ensure innovative R&D is delivered to further improve productivity and give the UK supply chain the technical capabilities to win work globally.

“Our research into manufacturing innovation and our Fit For Nuclear programme will help more UK companies enter the sector, as well as improve the current incumbents.”

The report shows that the benefits of the civil nuclear sector are felt across the country, with the industry’s activities supporting £1 in every £50 of economic output in the north-west and south-west of England.

NIA chief executive Tom Greatrex said: “For the first time we have comprehensive data which shows the important role the UK’s civil nuclear sector plays in generating highly skilled and well paid jobs, making a significant contribution to the economy and supplying low carbon electricity to keep the lights on.

“The UK’s nuclear sector is a vital part of the UK’s industrial heritage and the government’s industrial strategy, and the work being undertaken to bring forward a nuclear sector deal will be vital to underpinning and ultimately increasing this contribution.”