British ministers are preparing to revive the UK’s faltering effort to create a new generation of small-scale nuclear power plants in spite of an official analysis that cast doubt on the economic case for the technology. Talks have intensified in recent weeks between government officials and companies including Rolls-Royce, the UK engineering group, over potential public funding to support development of so-called small modular reactors (SMRs). Greg Clark, business secretary, is keen to put the UK at the forefront of technology seen as a more affordable alternative to large-scale nuclear reactors such as those under construction at the £20bn Hinkley Point C plant in south-west England. Development of SMRs is regarded as crucial to the future of the nuclear industry as it struggles to remain competitive against the rapidly falling cost of renewable wind and solar power. The UK faces competition from the US, Canada and China in its effort to establish a leading position in the technology. Support for SMRs is expected to be part of a wider commitment to nuclear engineering in a new industrial strategy to be unveiled by the government this month. However, the enthusiasm has been complicated by a technology assessment, commissioned by the business department and carried out by EY, the accounting firm, which reached a negative verdict on the cost-effectiveness of SMRs. The findings are expected to be published in the coming weeks and will confront the government with awkward questions about why public money should be used to help commercialise the unproven technology.
FT 7th Nov 2017 read more »
You’ve got to hand it to the nuclear industry: they’re one resilient bunch of never-say-die hard-arses! By any standards, 2017 has been an annus horribilis for the industry, with one body blow after another, all around the world. And 2016 wasn’t that much better either. The Government is about to announce a multi-million-pound support package to ensure a vibrant SMR industry here in the UK. The Small Modular Reactor Consortium is very excited at this latest PR drive, and has published a new report promising 40,000 jobs, a £100bn infusion into the UK economy, and a £400bn export market. You can see what I mean about the quality of the hype! For many in the nuclear industry, having watched all their much-touted GW-scale reactors go down the pan, and having had to accept that their long-cherished dream of a new generation of fast-breeder reactors will never materialise, SMRs are almost the last resort. There are literally dozens of different SMR designs out there, with the USA, Russia, South Korea, China and now the UK bigging up the superiority of their particular whizz-bang design – but there are NO CLIENTS anywhere in the world. The SMR Consortium’s new report breathily promises us that the first SMR in the UK could be delivered for £75 per MWh – but there’s absolutely nothing to back up that figure, by the way. That figure would then reduce to £60 per MWh once they’d built a few of them. That’s certainly much cheaper than Hinkley Point (at £92.50 per MWh), but then everything under the sun is cheaper than Hinkley. But it’s massively more expensive than offshore wind (already down to £57.50 per MWh, and still falling), let alone onshore wind (now down to €42.80 in Germany), let along solar, which realistic projections show will be down to around £10-£15 per MWh by 2030. All the current excitement about the SMR is just the latest desperate attempt to keep the idea of nuclear power alive here in the UK – but, to be honest, I’m not too worried. Just as I don’t believe we’ll ever see Hinkley Point finished and generating electricity, nor do I believe that a new generation of SMRs will ever materialise, ensuring that the insane dream of the UK as ‘a vibrant nuclear nation’ will remain just that – an insane dream.
Jonathon Porritt 4th Nov 2017 read more »