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New £2.9m nuclear research programme 'a message of Government support'

Joseph Flaig

(Stock image. Credit: no_limit_pictures/ iStock)
(Stock image. Credit: no_limit_pictures/ iStock)

A new £2.9 million nuclear research programme is a “clear message” of Government support for the sector, an expert has said.

Amec Foster Wheeler will set up and run the UK Digital Reactor Design Partnership under contract from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The programme will use virtual systems and high-power computing to improve the techniques used in reactor design and optimisation.

The investment is part of a broader effort to put UK industry at the “forefront” of developing new nuclear technology, including small modular reactors (SMRs). The reactors are small enough to be manufactured off-site before being moved and linked up with other power station components.

The design partnership is a “positive move” from BEIS, said Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at IMechE. “Nuclear offers the option of both centralised or localised electricity, providing for the needs of different communities,” she said. It is good to see the Government starting a programme for new SMRs but more investment is still needed for the industry, she added.

“£2.9 million is a very small part of the £250 million promised to the nuclear sector as part of the 2015 spending review and further support… would also be welcomed,” she said. “With changes to the status of the UK in Europe and leaving the Euratom Treaty, the treaty which supports a significant amount of European and global nuclear research, this is a time when the industry requires more investment and security to be provided by the UK government.”

The programme is a "great first step for the UK supply chain," said New Nuclear Watch Europe chairman Tim Yeo. However, he added that "for momentum in the sector to keep up, the government must push ahead with new build projects as soon as possible.”

Amec Foster Wheeler’s work will enhance techniques in reactor design and optimisation, said clean energy president Clive White. “We will be bringing together expertise from industry and academia combining the latest digital techniques, such as virtual engineering, with advanced multi-physics modelling and simulation expertise,” he said. “The objective is to enhance reactor design capability and assist UK industry to play a crucial role in our future energy security.”

The company will work with the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre, the University of Manchester, the Hartree Centre, the National Nuclear Laboratory, Rolls-Royce, EDF Energy, the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London.

The programme is “the first stage in transforming the way that the UK nuclear industry will design and build new facilities and strengthen capabilities across the sector for the future,” said professor Eann Patterson from the University of Liverpool, the lead academic for the project.

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