Construction of the UK’s first ever mini nuclear plant could begin in 2025 but government policy is urgently needed to encourage investor confidence in the sector, new research has found.
A report by Energy Technologies Institute said work on the country’s first ever small modular nuclear reactor plant could start within the next nine years, with a plant fully operational by 2030.
But ETI nuclear strategy manager and report author Mike Middleton said the 2025 timeline could only be achieved if a policy framework is put in place by the government to encourage investors to support the sector.
He called on the government to “work with regulators to come up with an integrated SMR programme” and create “a policy framework that reduces investor risk”.
The global SMR market could be worth £250bn-£400bn by 2035, according to the National Nuclear Laboratory, providing a new stream of nuclear work for contractors.
The UK government has already begun to support SMR development and announced last November that it would be putting £250m towards a research and development programme.
This was followed in March by the launch of a competition to identify a UK SMR design that would provide best value for money.
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A number of nuclear giants have entered the competition, including Westinghouse, Bechtel, NuScale Power and Hinkley Point C developer EDF.
Other engineering and construction firms have also entered the competition, including Atkins and contractor Costain.
ETI said the competition could be completed within the next two years, with the government deciding which reactor designs to take forward for assessment by the Office for Nuclear Regulation by mid-2018.
The report says the ONR’s assessment could be finished by the end of 2022, with preliminary works and site assessments starting by the start of 2023.
Civil construction work could then start by mid-2025, with the ETI predicting a five-year build time for the first plant.
Mr Middleton said: “Creating the right environment for increasing investor confidence is critical if this schedule is to be met; there will be a key role for government in the first five years of any such programme to deliver an SMR policy framework which progressively reduces investor risk.
“Our work has also identified a range of sites with the right environment to facilitate early UK deployment of SMRs, with a number of them being potentially suitable for a first of a kind.
“But it is important to take a strategic approach to managing potential sites because of the limited number of sites suitable for large reactors in England and Wales.”
Nuclear Industry Association chief executive Tom Greatrex said: “This shows the potential of SMRs as a complementary technology to large-scale new nuclear.
“Not only will it help secure the UK’s low-carbon energy, but with its possible application to combined heat and power, [it] could also contribute to the decarbonisation of heat as well as the electricity mix.”
He added: “For the potential of SMRs to be realised, we need government policy to provide confidence for investors and we look forward to the release of its SMR roadmap later this year to provide this clarity and policy direction.”
SMRs are cheaper and easier to build, providing greater flexibility for energy developers.
They can be built inland and nearer to cities because they are smaller in size, and can also provide heat as well as power to urban locations – unlike coastal plants such as Hinkley Point C, which will only generate power.
If the timeline is met, the UK’s small modular reactor plant would be one of the first to be built in the world.
Fluor’s subsidiary firm NuScale Power is currently developing the world’s first SMR plant in Idaho, which is scheduled to be operational in 2023.