Small Reactor Delusion

The Financial Times seems to think that delays at Hinkley Point C will boost the argument for building small modular reactors (SMRs) in Britain.

In reality the nuclear industry is trying to find a silver lining to the cloud which is hanging over it, and using the problems of its own making to squeeze even more funds out of the hard pressed taxpayer. The FT reports that Rolls Royce wants more money for research for instance, and the recent House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee investigation concluded that deployment of SMRs is likely to be achieved through “sharing the costs between the public and private sector”.

There is already a provisionally agreed schedule to allow one SMR design to go through a Generic Design Assessment beginning in 2017. But this could take six years. By 2023 the cost of solar is expected to fall below that of gas, and the cost of offshore wind will have fallen below £100/MWh and will almost certainly be less than nuclear.

The cost per unit of output of SMRs is currently higher than the already expensive conventional, larger reactors. But the industry sees SMRs as a way to reduce costs and speed up construction by using large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs. But first someone needs to build a massive supply chain. Money for that would presumably come from customer orders – if there were any. The problem is it appears that no one actually wants to buy one.

Rather than getting on with implementing a sensible renewable energy programme and an energy efficiency strategy which can bring an end to the 25,000 excess deaths every winter, the UK Government is still sketching out scenarios for the country with up to 75GW of nuclear capacity in 2050 providing 86% of the UK’s electricity supply. This would require an eye watering 30GW of new capacity to be built between 2030 and 2040 and another 30GW between 2040 and 2050. The Government is already considering what sort of process might be needed to propose new sites for nuclear reactors shows that it is serious about its long-term nuclear strategy.

What is most worrying about these future nuclear scenarios is that the UK Government is failing to develop alternative non-nuclear scenarios to replace them when they turn out to have been a delusion, which they surely will.

More information:

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, the UK’s long-term nuclear strategy and Ireland’s future energy mix debate. NFLA March 2015

New Reactor Types are all Nuclear Pie in the Sky, by Jim Green, Ecologist 2nd October 2014


Published: 9 April 2015