The UK is accelerating its nuclear capacity
Britain seems to be going full steam ahead with its nuclear plans. From large to small, the UK government is encouraging the development of nuclear power of all kinds as it supports a wide range of clean energy projects to underpin its domestic energy security future. Following the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the subsequent imposition of sanctions on Russian energy, several European powers are racing to boost their production of fossil fuels and renewable energy to help them avoid shortages and ensure their energy security. While some countries are going all out on renewable energy projects, others are supporting more controversial nuclear development. While much of the world has moved aggressively away from nuclear power over the past few decades, some governments are reembracing the much-criticized energy source.
In June, the British government demonstrated its commitment to nuclear power in the future energy mix by buying a 20 percent stake in Sizewell C in Suffolk for $100 million.
Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a national plan to develop eight nuclear reactors by 2030. Sizewell C is expected to receive planning permission on 9 July, although controversially it will cost more than double taxpayers' previous estimates and take five years to build.
EDF is already experiencing delays with its Hinkley Point C project, which is expected to start a year behind schedule in 2027 and cost $3.6 billion more than expected, for a total of between $30 billion and $31.5 billion. EDF, which is building Hinkley in partnership with CGN, said the cost changes would not result in any extra cost to taxpayers. The project was originally approved in 2016, but there were delays due to disruptions from the pandemic, according to EDF.
In addition to large-scale nuclear projects, Britain is also embracing small-scale development to move away from conventional nuclear plants. After announcing plans last year to build several small modular reactors (SMR) across the UK, Rolls-Royce expects to receive development permission in 2024 and begin the regulatory process this year. The company hopes to start generating nuclear power by 2029.
Rolls-Royce announced this week that it had identified a shortlist of sites for its first SMR plant. The government aims to build 16 SMRS over 25 years as part of its decarbonisation strategy. SMRS can be built on the assembly line and assembled on site. The sites being suggested are Richmond in North Yorkshire, Deeside and Ferrybridge in Wales, Staringborough, Sunderland and Carlisle in Lincolnshire. These sites will receive substantial investment and see job creation in the area.
The aerospace and defense company last year received $236 million in funding from private companies and $254 million in SMR business from the government. SMRS are becoming increasingly attractive because they take up much less space than conventional nuclear plants, about a tenth of their size, while still providing enough energy to power about a million homes. Rolls-Royce expects each SMR to generate 470 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to 150 onshore wind turbines, at a cost of $2.4 billion each.
And now, a British start-up is looking for a piece of the action as it announces its latest nuclear innovation. In June, nuclear startup Newcleo raised $315 million to develop its technology and start pilot projects in France and the United Kingdom. Newcleo, based in London, aims to reduce the cost of nuclear power production with lead-cooled fast reactors, a new technology that uses atmospheric pressure rather than high-pressure water reactors. The system can use waste from traditional factories as fuel, without the need to mine uranium. It is considered safer than existing nuclear technology.
Newcleo aims to build its first 30-megawatt prototype at $480m, a fraction of the cost of a conventional nuclear plant. Stefano Buono, the company's chief executive, explained: "We will use these reactors as a test of these technologies. "We believe our reactors are cheaper than current reactors," he added.
If feasible, the prototype is expected to be scaled up to build a 200MW plant. Newcleo is now appealing to the UK government to approve the construction site and grant it permission to operate. It also wants to produce mixed plutonium-uranium oxide fuel from treated nuclear waste.
Major innovation is taking place in nuclear power in the UK, with recent technological innovations making it possible to build several new conventional plants, as well as develop alternative nuclear reactors. In addition to the development of renewable energy, nuclear power is expected to make a significant contribution to the UK's decarbonisation programme.