15 November 2016
Our Energy and Climate Change expert, Simon Sjenitzer, reflects on the benefits of Small Modular Reactors.
Here’s an acronym you might want to bear in mind for the future in case it comes up in a Cumbrian pub quiz; ‘SMR’. It stands for Small Modular Reactor.
SMRs do what it says on the tin. They have a relatively small footprint and generating capacity, typically up to 300MW. Their modular design also means that they can be constructed and assembled cheaper, generating electricity in perhaps half the time of their bigger brothers/sisters.
As I write this article today, nuclear is currently providing the UK with 20% of our energy needs but coal is also generating almost 14% and we know that those power stations are due to be closed by 2025 at the latest. Whilst the ‘dash for gas’ is still seen as a relatively easy sticking plaster, it’s still a carbon emitter and doesn’t solve the issue of energy security long term – even factoring in a nascent Shale industry based across Lancashire. The possibility of SMRs have been talked about in the UK for some time to complement full scale power stations, but there is also relevance for developing countries where they have more pronounced electrical distribution infrastructure constraints .
On the 25th November 2015, the (previous) UK Chancellor of the Exchequer announced £250 million for small modular reactor development and wider nuclear R&D, and earlier this year (another previous) the Department of Energy & Climate Change held an open competition to gauge interest from potential manufacturers. In August this year, we had confirmation of which companies are in the running.
Now here’s the interesting thing that I want to get across. In amongst the 10 or so companies is Westinghouse, the technology owners of the AP1000 destined for our very own Moorside development. What you might not be aware of, is that Westinghouse used to be a UK owned asset – specifically British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. We then sold it off along with the nuclear technology IP. To me this echoed a wasted opportunity with the wind industry back in the 80’s, when we thought it wasn’t needed. Ditto Anaerobic Digesters even before that with the chief beneficiaries being Danish and German jobs respectively.
Why is this relevant to SMR? The Westinghouse SMR approach is to offer the UK Government a joint venture. We have the chance of being world leaders in SMR design and deployment that benefits UKPLC supply chain companies, creating wealth and jobs here.
Development of the Westinghouse SMR in a “Shared design and UK development model” provides the UK with the unique opportunity to “Move the UK from Buyer to Global Provider of SMR with up to 85% of components that could be sourced here in the UK”, stated Simon Marshall at a recent presentation in Sunderland.
With the positive news from Government last month giving the green light for the new Hinkley C power station, we still need to be mindful that it’s going to be a good few years yet before we see new nuclear generation and the same goes for NuGen’s proposed Moorside. Could this be a more sensible low carbon approach for UK base load requirements, and one which has the added benefit of job creation with world-wide potential at a time when we are looking to increase friendly international business partners post Brexit?
This article was first published in In Cumbria magazine.