UK launches competition for small nuclear reactors to 'help UK move towards net zero'

18 July 2023, 08:29

Minister for Nuclear and Networks joins Tom Swarbrick | Watch Again

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Government has promised grants of up to £157 million to several nuclear technology projects across the UK as it launched a separate competition for businesses to develop new nuclear reactors.

Speaking to LBC's Tom Swarbrick Nuclear Minister Andrew Bowie said a small modular reactor could power "700,000 homes."

The Minister said the introduction would help the UK "move towards our net-zero ambitions while ensuring more energy security moving forwards."

Mr Bowie told LBC from today companies will be able to sign up with a new arm's-length Government body, Great British Nuclear.

The companies could then be able to tap into "billions of pounds" of Government and private money to help develop smaller nuclear power plants.

It was unclear how much Government money will be put towards the development of these smaller, more agile, nuclear reactors.

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Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium to build small modular reactors (SMRs) and install them in former nuclear sites in Cumbria or in Wales.
Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium to build small modular reactors (SMRs) and install them in former nuclear sites in Cumbria or in Wales. Picture: Rolly Royce

The so-called small modular reactors (SMRs) that Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps wants to build are still unproven at any scale.

The idea is to design nuclear power plants which are small enough to be manufactured in factories and then transported to where they are going to be used.

This, the theory goes, will allow builders to benefit from the economies of scale of mass-production.

The first prototypes have started operating in Russia and China within the last three years.

The Government has promised that GB Nuclear will help the Government hit its target that around a quarter of Britain's electricity will come from nuclear by 2050.

However, it is the latest in a series of promises made by successive governments to ramp up the country's falling nuclear production.

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Nuclear minister Andrew Bowie was speaking to LBC
Nuclear minister Andrew Bowie was speaking to LBC. Picture: LBC

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher's government promised 10 new nuclear power plants, to be built at a pace of one a year from 1982. Only one was ever built, Sizewell B.

Decades later Tony Blair promised a new generation of nuclear power plants which would help to reduce the UK's carbon emissions.

Reviving Mr Blair's plans years after, David Cameron's government promised to build eight power plants. Out of these none have been completed, although Hinkley Point C is under construction.

Ahead of his speech later today Mr Shapps said: "Britain has a rich history as a pioneer of nuclear power, having launched the era of civil nuclear power - and I'm proud to be turbocharging its revival and placing our country once again at the forefront of global innovation.

"By rapidly boosting our homegrown supply of nuclear and other clean, reliable, and abundant energy, we will drive down bills for British homes and make sure the UK is never held to energy ransom by tyrants like Putin.

"Today, as we open Great British Nuclear and the competition to develop cutting-edge small modular reactor technology, which could result in billions of pounds of public and private sector investment, we are seeing the first brush strokes of our nuclear power renaissance to power up Britain and grow our economy for decades to come."

Alongside the launch of GB Nuclear the Government also announced that it would give grants of up to £157 million to several different projects.

This includes up to £77 million to accelerate the development of a nuclear business in the UK and support new designs.

This will maximise the chance of small and advanced modular reactors being built during the next parliament, the Government said.

Up to a further £58 million will be available for the development and designs of a new advanced modular reactor, which operate at higher temperatures, and new types of fuel.

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