The need for speedy Government action on small modular reactors (SMRs) has been highlighted by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee in its last report before the General Election.
In a wide ranging report on the state of nuclear research and technology in the UK the Committee found that the undoubted potential of the civil nuclear sector has been blighted by the indecision of successive Governments.
Like the Commons Energy Select Committee the Lords also set out the risks to the UK nuclear sector if membership to Euratom expires at the end of the two year negotiating period without a replacement. The UK risks losing its lead in fusion research as well as losing access to the markets and skills it needs to construct new nuclear power plants and existing power plants could be unable to acquire fuel.
Commenting on the release of the report, Earl of Selborne, Chairman of the Committee, said, “The UK has long-standing and continuing commitments to civil nuclear energy and is now strategically positioned to capture opportunities, especially for Small Modular Reactors. The incoming Government must end its cycle of indecision on nuclear policy and we urge it to take a clear, firm view on SMRs and wider civil nuclear strategy.”
“We also found that the amount of UK funding for nuclear research, development and innovation is much lower than public funding levels in other leading nuclear nations, including the US, France and Japan. If the Government’s aim is for the UK to be active across the main areas of nuclear R&D it needs to make significant investments in new technologies or we risk falling behind the rest of the world.”
The report calls on the Government to decide as a matter of urgency whether it wishes the UK to be a serious player in developing nuclear generation technology whether as a designer, manufacturer and operator, or to restrict its interest to being an operator of equipment supplied by others from overseas. These delays in taking civil nuclear policy decisions has seriously damaged the UK industry’s potential ability to contribute effectively to the national policies which might ultimately be favoured.
The Committee also criticises the Government’s failure to make a decision on its strategy for SMRs as a prime example of its inaction in the civil nuclear arena. Not keeping to the stated timetable for the SMR competition has had a negative effect on the nuclear sector in the UK and if the Government does not act soon the necessary high level of industrial interest will not be maintained.
This finding was backed by Nuclear Industry Association Chief Executive, Tom Greatrex, who told Nuclear Matters, “The NIA shares the frustration of the Committee that the first stage of the Government’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) competition has been left hanging in the air, and that the roadmap industry was promised last autumn seems to have got lost somewhere in Whitehall.”
“With a potential global market for SMRs valued at £250-£400bn, the Government must provide clarity as soon as possible after the general election if the energy, industrial and export opportunities of a UK SMR are to be realised. Otherwise that promising opportunity of recent years will be lost to others, including the US, Canada and China, who are progressing with SMR development programmes.”