On the 28 June, the long awaited “Nuclear Sector Deal” was launched. The response from the nuclear industry has been enthusiastic and it could be an important step in establishing a nuclear renaissance. Professor Juan Matthews of the Dalton Nuclear Institute takes a closer look at the likely impact and some other recent developments.
- The Nuclear Sector Deal provides funding boost, but gives industry tough targets for reducing nuclear build and decommissioning costs as well as ensuring a greater UK share of the supply chain.
- Manchester remains well placed in the “North West Nuclear Arc” of research and development in the nuclear sector.
- Questions remain over BREXIT impacts on movement of nuclear materials and UK participation in big projects like ITER.
The Nuclear Sector Deal is one of a number of sector deals for key industries in the UK, where funding for development is offered in return for promises from the big industry players to contribute to targets set by the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Nuclear Sector Deal is a part of the Green Growth Grand Challenge – one of the main arms of the UK Industrial Strategy announced last November. The Industrial Strategy covers 5 areas “Foundations of Productivity”: Ideas; People; Infrastructure; Places; and Business Environment.
We have seen an increasing level of publicly funded nuclear R&D since the issuing of the House of Lords studies in 2011 and 2017. The Nuclear Sector Deal confirms some of the recent announcements on new funding including:
- £86 million for a National Fusion Platform at Culham.
- £40 million for a thermohydraulic test facility in North Wales.
- £56 million for applied R&D for a new generation of Advanced Modular Reactors.
The Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) project is of particular interest to the University of Manchester, as it provides funding to explore the range of new reactor systems being developed around the world, including some homegrown ones like U-Battery and the Moltex stable salt reactor. This project will also allow involvement with International programmes Like the GEN-4 Forum and the Canadian SMR initiative. It is expected that the reactor designs, that successfully navigate the two phases of the current AMR competition, will join with more conventional small modular reactor (SMR) designs, like the Rolls Royce SMR, as candidates for reactor demonstration projects.
An important aim of the Sector Deal is to increase the number and skill of staff available to an growing nuclear sector. This will include:
- Increasing the number of nuclear related PhD places through doctoral training centres.
- Recruiting career champions to work with schools and further education to increase the number of young people choosing STEM subjects.
- Easing the flow of skilled staff between sectors.
- Maximise the use of the apprenticeship levy and extend apprenticeships to include development to “subject matter expert” level.
- Increase diversity in the nuclear sector with a target of 40% female participation by 2030, (the UK is currently the lowest in Europe at less than 10%.)
Two important facts have driven infrastructure strategy in the Nuclear Sector Deal: a recognition that nuclear new build and decommissioning of old plant are both too expensive. The deal rests on difficult targets for the nuclear industry to achieve by 2030; to get new build costs down by 30%; and to get forecast decommissioning costs down by 20%.
In the case of decommissioning, the industry will not be allowed to just extend decommissioning times. A review of decommissioning management will be carried out and a National Decommissioning and Waste Management Pipeline will be created with the aim of decreasing decommissioning times and to reduce both risks and costs.
In the case of new nuclear build, it is not just that costs have to come down but also the UK share in the supply chain has to increase. Part of the problem is to do with cost of investment. The contract for difference approach used for Hinkley Point C has been criticised by both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee. The Government’s decision to be more flexible in discussions with the developers of the Wylfa Newydd project in North Wales is welcomed by the industry. Government involvement in the early stages of large infrastructure projects can greatly reduce costs. This is the inverse of the failed Private Finance Initiatives introduced by Tony Blair and so beloved by Conservatives. Part of the more enlightened approach is the creation of an Expert Finance Working Group, reporting to the Industry Minster Richard Harrington, on how small reactor initiatives might be financed.
To support the new nuclear build cost reduction and increase the UK share of the nuclear supply chain, a series of new initiatives were announced in the Nuclear Sector Deal:
- £20 million for projects to demonstrate advanced manufacturing and construction.
- £12 million as initial funding for demonstration and embedding advanced capabilities in the UK nuclear supply chain.
- £20 million (half of which is in in-kind support) for the creation of a national supply chain and productivity improvement programme.
Our Blog “New approaches needed for nuclear”, made the case for cost reduction of nuclear power by adopting advanced manufacturing technologies. The University of Manchester led New Nuclear Manufacturing (NNUMAN) EPSRC platform project is now complete but its influence will continue through the NNUMAN Community activities. The University of Manchester also continues to support the University of Sheffield led Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre which is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. We also anticipate that the Henry Royce Institute will play an important part in supporting nuclear development in the future.
Significantly the launch of the Nuclear Sector Deal was done with no less than 3 Government Ministers in attendance at the decommissioned Magnox nuclear power station at Trawsfynydd in North Wales. The Welsh Government is keen to promote Trawsfynydd as a site for a small reactor demonstration. The Wylfa Newydd project is also making progress with the completion of the Generic Design Assessment late last year. As a result, North Wales is increasingly being regarded as part of a super-cluster, the “North West Nuclear Arc”, running from Anglesey, through the Wirral, Manchester and Preston to Cumbria. The Nuclear Sector Deal discussed initiatives for nuclear clusters around the UK to collaborate and exchange experience, with alliances between Local Enterprise Partnerships.
The Nuclear Safeguards Act was passed last month and progress has been made in creating a new system with the office of Nuclear Regulation. But two major issues remain with BREXIT (See our Blog Euratom and Leaving the UK: an Update).
- Is the Government really prepared to pay the cost of keeping the UK in the European Research programmes and big projects like ITER and Galileo?
- Euratom guaranteed free movement of nuclear fuel, other nuclear materials and radioisotopes. After we leave, whether these important materials end up in queues at ports depends on an effective solution to the general problem of a trade agreement and customs barriers. Don’t hold your breath.