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What next for the UK’s nuclear new-builds?

When Hinkley Point C got the government green-light last year, business secretary Greg Clark heralded it as the “inauguration of a new era of UK nuclear power”. 

While spades are now in the ground at Hinkley, despite some delays, the status of the country’s other nuclear new-build projects is less clear.

Last week saw South Korean nuclear giant Kepco selected as preferred bidder to buy NuGen, the developer of the Moorside plant in Cumbria.

The deal is crucial to securing the future of the £10bn project – a future that has looked increasingly doubtful after financial difficulties at NuGen’s current owner, Toshiba.

NuGen chief executive Tom Samson hailed the deal at last week’s Nuclear Industry Association summit, saying Kepco had the balance sheet to ensure funding and had a delivery record envied across the world.

Kepco’s involvement will, however, likely push back construction at Moorside.

Kepco will want to use its own reactor technology at Moorside, thereby leaving it to navigate its way through the UK’s stringent generic design assessment (GDA), a process that could take up to four years.

The opening of the plant could be as late as 2030, Mr Samson admitted.

And this new timetable puts Moorside head-to-head with the China General Nuclear’s (CGN) Bradwell project in Essex as the third new-build project in the pipeline. 

CGN, which also has a 33 per cent stake in Hinkley Point C, began its reactor GDA in January this year.

The conclusion of the GDA is still years off, and a final investment decision isn’t expected until the mid-2020s, but CGN has plans to engage with the UK supply chain next year.

“We will hold a supplier day in the middle of 2018,” CGN chief operating officer Robert Davies promised. “I pledge to work with suppliers to find out everything you have achieved by working on other projects, so that they can bring value to us.”

And in front of Moorside and Bradwell is Horizon’s Wylfa Newydd plant in Anglesey, north Wales.

Its owner Hitachi is likely to complete its GDA process before Christmas and there are still issues to be ironed out with the funding. But the project has promised more engagement with the supply chain, something that the company admits hasn’t been forthcoming so far. 

“There has been a question [from suppliers] of, ’Why hasn’t there been more engagement with the supply chain?’”, admits Mike Robinson, deputy director of Wylfa’s EPC contractor, Menter Newydd.

“What we are mindful of, though, is that spending some more time on the planning was better than getting engaged prematurely and cycling the supply chain and asking them the same questions again and again.”

But there are other, more mini, opportunities in the nuclear space that firms should be keeping an eye on.

Last week saw the government announce it will provide £44m in funding for a new competition to develop small modular reactors.

SMRs might seem a long way off for the construction sector with the technology yet to be fully developed, but this hasn’t stopped some firms staking their claim.

Laing O’Rourke has not wasted any time in siding up to those in the competition, agreeing partnerships with both Urenco and Rolls-Royce on their respective SMR proposals.

And with money now there for SMRs and a government willing to get SMR technology off the ground, don’t rule out more partnerships like this being agreed in the months ahead.

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