UK launches SMR competition

The UK government has launched a competition to identify the best-value small modular reactor design for the country.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) released full details of the competition’s first phase, following confirmation in the 2016 Budget of the government’s interest in building one of the world’s first SMRs in the UK.

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The competition will consider designs which can generate up to 300MW of electricity. The first phase aims to gauge market interest among technology developers, utilities, potential investors and funders in developing, commercialising and financing SMRs in the UK.

To qualify, SMR designs must be able to achieve in-factory production of modular components or systems amounting to a minimum of 40 per cent of the total plant cost. This will present significant opportunities to exploit advanced manufacturing technologies to reduce cost and project risk.

DECC emphasises that SMRs should be seen as a potential complement to the UK’s current large-scale nuclear new build programme. The department will publish an SMR roadmap in the autumn, which will summarise the evidence so far, set out the policy framework, and assess the potential for SMR development in the UK.

The Budget also included an allocation of at least £30 million for an SMR-enabling advanced manufacturing R&D programme to develop nuclear skills capacity. “This will create opportunities for the North’s centres of excellence in nuclear research, such as the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Sir Henry Royce Institute,” the statement noted.

Mike Tynan, chief executive of the Nuclear AMRC, commented: “Chancellor George Osborne has already demonstrated a commitment to small modular nuclear reactors and it’s good to see the continued momentum with this technology as part of a balanced energy portfolio for the UK.

“The new nuclear build projects at Hinkley Point in Somerset, Wylfa in North Wales, and Moorside in West Cumbria have not yet received final investment decisions from their respective owners. If current studies indicate that they are economic and affordable, small modular reactors could be a potential supplement to the existing projects and could play a vital role in the UK energy market.

“The development of a UK small modular reactor would provide us with the opportunity to build on the UK’s proud heritage in the civil nuclear industry and to harness our world leading capability in advanced manufacturing. Small modular reactors could put UK technology development on the fast track and position UK manufacturers for valuable research partnerships and create a strong likelihood of securing volume export business. We would be making real progress to securing our energy future and make a real contribution to a sustainable low carbon economy in the UK.”

The Nuclear AMRC is already working with a number of SMR developers which have expressed an interest in working with the UK government. In November 2014, the centre signed an agreement with NuScale to work together on the development of the US group’s Power Module design. The Nuclear AMRC is also currently working with Westinghouse to explore the most effective way to manufacture reactor pressure vessels for Westinghouse’s SMR in the UK.