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Small modular reactors can ‘secure Britain’s nuclear industry’ after Brexit

Amit Katwala

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

​A report recommends accelerating the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) to help decarbonise the UK's energy supply.

These are smaller than traditional nuclear reactors, and can be manufactured at a plant before being assembled on site.

The report, published by Policy Exchange, recommends that the government should proceed swiftly with the development of next-generation (Gen III) SMR designs, and consult with industry on how Gen IV designs could be used.

It also suggests finding ways to produce hydrogen using nuclear power, as it predicts an increasingly important role for the gas in heating homes and powering low-carbon vehicles.

“In the next decades, we are going to need previously unthinkable levels of new low-carbon electricity capacity for charging electric vehicles and to replace coal and gas,” said Matt Rooney, Policy Exchange’s energy and environment research fellow. “Whilst the cost reductions of solar and wind power have been impressive, their very nature means we can’t rely on them without investing huge amounts in storage technology.”

He said that the investment required in batteries made renewable sources impractical on their own, and that to power our current electricity system for a five-day working week in January would cost up to £1 trillion in batteries.

“There is no other low-carbon energy which can match nuclear power for scale and reliability, as well as the potential to use it for other services like district heat and hydrogen production,” he continued. “The failure of the nuclear industry to prove that it can finance and build large reactors on time and to budget means that the development of small modular reactors must be one of the central goals of government energy policy.”

Jenifer Baxter, the IMechE’s head of engineering policy, said SMRs could “secure the country’s future nuclear industry” after Brexit. “Pushing ahead with the commercialisation of SMRs would enable the UK energy and manufacturing sectors to collaborate creating a world-leading environment of new nuclear developments supporting low-carbon generation and the growth in interconnected engineering skills,” she said.

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