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The UK Is Racing To Ramp Up Nuclear Power Capacity

·4 min read

The U.K. appears to be going full throttle on its nuclear power plans. From big to small, the British government is encouraging the development of a variety of nuclear developments as it offers support for a wide range of clean energy projects to solidify the future of its domestic energy security.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent introduction of sanctions on Russian energy, several European powers are racing to boost their fossil fuel and renewable energy output to help them avoid shortages and ensure their energy security. While some are going all-in with renewable energy projects, others are backing more controversial nuclear energy developments. After a significant movement away from nuclear power in much of the world over the last few decades, several state governments are reembracing the much-critiqued energy source.

In June, the U.K. government bought a 20 percent stake in the Sizewell C nuclear plant in Suffolk for $100 million, demonstrating its dedication to a future with nuclear power in the energy mix. The development is owned by EDF and China General Nuclear Power (CGN), although the government’s stake could see CGN pushed out of the project after criticism of China becoming too heavily involved in U.K. infrastructure plans.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined national plans for the development of eight nuclear reactors by 2030. Sizewell C is expected to gain planning consent on 9th July, despite controversy over the construction costing taxpayers over double previous estimates and taking five years longer to build.

Delays have already been seen in EDF’s Hinkley Point C, which is expected to open a year later than planned, in 2027, and cost $3.6 billion more than anticipated, totaling between $30 and $31.5 billion. EDF is partnering with CGN on the construction of Hinkley and says the change in costs will not cause taxpayers any additional expense. The development was originally approved in 2016 but has seen delays due to pandemic disruption, according to EDF.

In addition to largescale nuclear power projects, the U.K. is also embracing smaller-scale developments in a shift away from solely traditional nuclear plants. After announcing plans to construct several Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) across the U.K. last year, Rolls Royce is expected to be granted permission for development by 2024, having started the regulatory process this year. The company hopes to start generating nuclear power by 2029.

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Rolls Royce announced this week that it has established a site shortlist for its first SMR factory. The government is aiming to build 16 SMRs over 25 years as part of its decarbonization strategy. The SMRs can be built on a production line to be assembled on sites. The locations being suggested are Richmond in North Yorkshire, Deeside in Wales, Ferrybridge, Stallingborough in Lincolnshire, Sunderland, and Carlisle. The nuclear plant sites would receive an influx in investment as well as see a rise in the number of job opportunities in the region.

The aerospace and defense company received $236 million in funding from private firms and $254 million from the government for its SMR business last year. SMRs are becoming more attractive as they take up considerably less space than a traditional nuclear power plant, at around a tenth of the size, while still providing enough energy to power around one million homes. Rolls Royce expects each SMR to be able to generate 470MW, equivalent to the power produced by 150 onshore wind turbines, costing $2.4 billion each.

And now a U.K. startup is looking for a piece of the action as it announces recent nuclear power innovations. In June, nuclear energy startup Newcleo raised $315 million in funds to develop its technology and launch pilot projects in France and the U.K.. Newcleo, based in London, aims to decrease the cost of nuclear power production using a lead-cooled fast reactor, a new technology that uses atmospheric pressure rather than high-pressure water reactors. The system can be fuelled by waste produced in traditional plants, without the need for mined uranium. It is thought to be safer than existing nuclear technology.

Newcleo aims to construct its first 30MW prototype for $480 million, a fraction of the cost of a conventional nuclear plant. CEO of the firm Stefano Buono explained “We are going to use these reactors as a test for these technologies.” He added, “we believe our reactor is cheaper than current reactors.”

The prototype is expected to be scaled up for the construction of a 200MW plant if deemed viable. Newcleo is currently appealing to the U.K. government for building site approval and the granting of its operating permits. It also hopes to also produce mixed plutonium-uranium oxide fuel from processed nuclear waste.

Significant innovations are being seen in the U.K.’s nuclear power, with the potential for the construction of several new conventional power plants as well as the development of alternative nuclear reactors, thanks to recent innovations in technology. In addition to renewable energy developments, nuclear power is expected to contribute substantially to the U.K.’s decarbonization plans.

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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