Dungeness Power Station in Kent, one of the older generation of large nuclear power stations ©PA Images
Dungeness Power Station in Kent, one of the older generation of large nuclear power stations ©PA Images

Manufacturing opportunity in mini nuclear

The government should support miniature nuclear reactor projects with the same supply chain model it used for offshore wind energy technology, an official review has said.

Offering similar subsidies to projects involving small nuclear reactors, known as small modular reactors (SMRs) would boost manufacturing and exports, according to the Expert Finance Working Group on Small Reactors.

In its government report, the group said that the SMR industry was in its infancy, with supply chains yet to be established, and provided a “real short term opportunity” for UK manufacturers to step in. 

This was different to big nuclear power projects, it said, because the industry already has established supply chains operating largely abroad.

It said the support offered should come in the form of a Contract for Difference, Power Purchase Agreement or a Regulated Asset Base, which have been used to develop the offshore wind sector.

“[The government] should establish an advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative (as it did with offshore wind) to bring forward existing and new manufacturing capability in the UK,” it said. 

Initial government investment has provided support for offshore wind in recent years. Offshore wind power is expected to double its generating capacity in the decade to 2030, producing up to a third of the UKs electricity. 

“The UK has the opportunity of developing the supply chain to manufacture and supply the potential international market,” it said.

Energy minister Richard Harrington said the report showed the “potential for how investors, industry and government can work together to make small nuclear reactors a reality”.

SMRs use existing nuclear technology, but on a much smaller scale than larger plants. The report said one plant would be able to produce around a tenth of the electricity created by large-scale projects.

The mini plants could be deployed by 2030 according to the review, and would be made in factories. The parts would be small enough to be transported and assembled much more quickly than full-scale existing nuclear power stations, it said.

The report comes in the wake of recommendations by the National Infrastructure Commission last month that the UK should temper investment in nuclear power. It said the government should only build one more plant after Hinkley Point C to keep the supply chain running.

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