The Nuclear Industry and the British Energy Security Strategy: What next?
04 May 2022
The UK Government has published the British Energy Security Strategy, which sets an ambitious mission for the UK – where up to 95% of electricity could be from low-carbon sources by 2030. It seeks to reduce pressure on consumers, who have been hard hit by energy price increases resulting from several factors including the Ukraine-Russia war, while supporting the UK to meet its net zero targets. The Government is signalling that a versatile suite of innovative nuclear technologies will be employed to support its goals.
A key pillar of this British Energy Security Strategy is the new commitment to produce 24GW of nuclear power by 2050. This represents up to 25% of the UK’s projected electricity demands and will rely on a mix of both small modular reactors (SMRs) and large conventional nuclear projects. The Government intends to take one project to final investment decision (FID) in this Parliament (2019-2025) and two projects in the next, including SMRs.
The enhanced role of nuclear energy in the strategy is an important and positive development and indicates a strong recognition from the UK Government of the need for more reliable, low-carbon, nuclear power on the national grid. This mirrors recent government statistics that show solid public support for this form of energy generation (BEIS Attitude Tracker, May 2021). In tandem, the recent opening of the Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Research, Development and Demonstration (AMR RD&D) programme’s Phase A competition is similarly positive and demonstrates that the Government is keen to progress the development and deployment of a first-of-a-kind AMR by the early 2030s. This competition will provide £2.5million in innovation funding to support the development of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) via the AMR RD&D programme.
Evidently, the Government is looking to multiple differing reactor types (large-scale reactors, SMRs and AMRs) to provide a range of innovative nuclear technologies that will provide versatility for the decarbonisation targets of various sectors and reduce energy costs for businesses and the public, while working alongside renewables and other technologies.
The government’s approach to nuclear technologies includes large-scale reactors, SMRs and AMRs, which all differ in size, energy output, complexity and, therefore, their role within the UK’s future low-carbon energy mix. Large-scale reactors are complex projects that will deliver large quantities of low-cost electricity once deployed, while SMRs use modular methods in their construction to reduce complexity. Both will generate low-carbon electricity for the grid, playing a key role in stabilising consumer prices and building-in long-term system resilience.
High-temperature gas-cooled AMRs are smaller and even less complex. These reactors can be assembled on site, using modular methods, and once deployed will co-generatively produce high-heats and power that can provide a low-carbon, cost-effective, substitute to the current fuels and energy used by hard-to-abate sectors for their operations, such as ceramics, glass and minerals manufacture. Due to their co-generative output, ability to be sited close to offtakers and focus on industrial decarbonisation, this type of nuclear technology adds further versatility to the Government’s suite of technologies.
Both the British Energy Security Strategy and the recent opening of the AMR RD&D programme’s Phase A competition demonstrate that the UK is looking to a range of nuclear technologies. AMRs – such as the U-Battery – add crucial versatility to the wider package of low-carbon technologies that the UK is seeking to deploy to meet net zero, reduce energy prices and build-in system resilience.
U-Battery is an advanced/small modular reactor, capable of providing a low-carbon, cost-effective, locally embedded and reliable source of power and heat for energy intensive industry and remote locations. It is being developed by Urenco in collaboration with a number of supporting organisations and has received funding from the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy's Energy Innovation Portfolio.