The UK government has published a policy paper outlining the first phase of a competition to "identify the best value small modular reactor design".

Caroline Peachey

The UK government has published a policy paper outlining the first phase of a competition to "identify the best value small modular reactor design" for potential deployment. The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) also released "eligibility criteria" for the first phase, which it said "will be the first opportunity to engage in discussions with government" in a "structured dialogue". An ‘SMR roadmap’ will be developed in parallel with the first phase, which the DECC said "will summarise the evidence so far, set out the policy framework and assess the potential, for one or more possible pathways for SMRs to help the UK achieve its energy objectives, while delivering economic benefits".
"The roadmap will also include details of the process that government will use to identify suitable sites or types of sites, and any work that the government will undertake with the Office for Nuclear Regulation to ensure that appropriate provision is made within the process for regulatory approval, including through generic design assessment," the DECC said. The government said it will allocate at least £30m ($42m) for an "SMR-enabling advanced manufacturing R&D programme" to develop nuclear skills capacity.
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) George Osborne said in his annual budget speech to parliament on 16 March that the government would be inviting bids to help develop the next generation of SMRs. The London-based Nuclear Industry Association welcomed the announcement. CEO Tom Greatrex said SMRs could potentially play "a significant complementary role to the UK’s existing new build programme" and it is welcome that the government is looking seriously at the development of SMRs.
US nuclear SMR technology developer NuScale Power was quick to respond to the announcement and confirmed that it will put its SMR forward as part of the competition. "Our proposed UK-US venture marries a credible international partner and a near-term deployable technology with the UK’s world-renowned industry and workforce," Nuscale said. It added that talks with potential developers interested in deploying the technology in the UK in the 2020s are advancing, including plans to put UK nuclear engineering and advanced manufacturing at the forefront of that deployment.
NuScale Power’s Managing Director Tom Mundy for the UK and Europe said: "Our technology is designed to be scalable, factory-fabricated and flexible, providing a financeable, cost-effective source of reliable, safe, low carbon power….NuScale modules could be rolling off the production line in British factories and generating power for British homes by the 2020s. Exports to other parts of Europe would transform the UK into a hub for this innovative technology."
NuScale had spent two years building a presence in the UK. Fluor Corporation, NuScale’s primary investor, has a 55 year history in the UK, an existing footprint in the UK nuclear industry, and a 2,000-strong engineering base in Hampshire. NuScale has a strategic partnership with Ultra Electronics, based in Dorset, to work on the development and deployment of the reactor protection system and other safety-related instrumentation and control systems. It also has a collaboration agreement with the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield, which is working on the pioneering industrial techniques that have potential cost saving application to the deployment of SMRs.
NuScale is at an advanced stage of development in the USA compared with its nearest competitors. As well as the strong backing of its primary investor Fluor Corporation, NuScale is the only SMR developer currently receiving financial backing from the US Department of Energy, as $217m of match funding over five years. It expects to submit its Design Certification Application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission later this year, with a view to receiving regulatory approval in the early 2020s. The first NuScale facility is due to be completed in 2024 in the state of Idaho for US municipal utility UAMPS.
US-based Westinghouse Electric Company (part of Toshiba) is also in the running. Earlier in March, it said it would launch a manufacturing study in collaboration with the UK’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to investigate the production of reactor pressure vessels for its SMR design. In October 2015 Westinghouse said it had asked to work in partnership with the UK government on the deployment of SMR technology, a move the US-based company said would advance the UK from being "a buyer to a global provider" of the latest nuclear energy technology. Westinghouse said it had already presented the UK with a proposal intended to complement phase two of a study being carried out by the government into the viability of SMRs.
In November 2015 the government announced that the UK would double funding for the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s energy innovation programme to £500m over five years, which will help pay for an ambitious nuclear research programme that will revive the country’s nuclear expertise and help turn it into a leader in SMR technology. At the time Osborne said the investment would strengthen future security of supply, reduce the costs of decarbonisation and boost industrial and research capabilities.
The House of Commons Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change said in a report in 2014, that while the nuclear energy industry’s "immediate priority" is the successful delivery of the UK’s planned "conventional new-build programme… we also recognise that SMRs, particularly those based on known nuclear technologies, are a viable proposition for future deployment in the UK in the next decade".
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has launched a series of workshops to help nuclear regulators prepare for the "potential global deployment" of a new generation of small modular reactors (SMRs). Advanced SMRs "could be licensed and hit the market as early as 2020" the IAEA said. The workshops are designed to help regulators with "approaches to safety and licensing".
The first workshop, co-sponsored by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), was held at the IAEA’s Vienna headquarters earlier in March. Workshop chairman Abdelmajid Mahjoub, who is also director-general of the Arab Atomic Energy Agency, said: "Small modular reactors are a very attractive proposition for the Arab world as more than half the countries in our region don’t have the resources to build large, traditional nuclear power plants. SMRs are more feasible, manageable and require lower investment – it is a very realistic option for Arab countries to consider."
The director of the IAEA’s nuclear installation safety division Greg Rzentkowski said: "We need to establish a set of clear and pragmatic requirements for safety and licensing. Regulatory certainty is essential for successful deployment of SMRs." The IAEA will coordinate additional work in this area in coming years. "This is likely to include the development of an overarching safety objective and a guidance document on establishing relevant requirements in accordance with the facility type and size."