Nuclear innovations for net zero
New reactor designs mean nuclear can do more to cut carbon and fight climate change. New small reactors, advanced reactors, more efficient large reactors and fusion technology are all on the way. They let us use more sites, create more heat, and expand our flexibility. We can decarbonise buildings, transportation, and industry, as well as electricity.
Small Modular Reactors
SMRs are one of the industry’s most exciting technologies; reactors that are slimmer versions of classic technologies that can operate flexibly on smaller sites. The UK aims to develop SMRs to be deployed quickly around the country to supply heat and power.
SMRs could potentially be cheaper than conventional large reactors, and they may be able to be exported around the world. Manufactured in a factory, complete components are transported to the site for final assembly. Their compact size allows for greater siting flexibility in comparison to traditional reactors.
In the UK, a Rolls-Royce led consortium is designing a 470MWe SMR, which could power a city the size of Leeds, power over 60,000 electric cars in this country, and sustain critical jobs and capabilities across a strong UK supply chain. The government is poised to approve £210 million funding for a fleet of the mini reactors.
Combining small atoms rather than splitting big ones: the Sun does it, and we can too.
Nuclear fusion is when the cores pf two small atoms join together: a tiny amount of mass is converted into a huge amount of green energy, with no CO2 created. That’s what powers the Sun, and the UK is developing the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) to harness it on earth.
Five sites – one in Scotland and four in England – have been shortlisted to host the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant.
Find out more by vising the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s website.
The Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) is the UK’s national laboratory for fusion research. CCFE is based at Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, and is owned and operated by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.
The UK fusion programme at Culham is centred on the innovative Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) experiment and employs around 150 people. The programme is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Union under the EURATOM treaty.
Advanced Modular Reactors
Advanced modular reactors (AMRs) are innovative designs that expand the green energy solutions nuclear can provide. AMRs are being developed to be very small, to use new fuel types and cooling agents, and to operate at very high temperatures.
In July 2021 the government published a Call for Evidence setting out how it plans to approach building the country’s first AMR demonstrator project. This will specifically explore High Temperature Gas Reactor (HTGR) AMRs, as the most promising model for the programme, which ministers are investing £170 million into delivering by the early 2030s.
British company Urenco is leading development of an ultra-small AMR design called U-Battery. Based on pebble bed technology, each reactor will produce just 4MWe plus 10MWt. Target markets include back-up power, desalination plants and smart cities.