National Nuclear Laboratory and JAEA are progressing work on the next generation reactor and fuels R&D

National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) is celebrating the signing of contracts with its key partner to accelerate the design of a UK high temperature gas reactor and coated particle fuel with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA).

This exciting project is being launched following funding of £31 million from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero in July 2023. NNL will lead a group of organisations for each of the two projects to continue this vital next stage of reactor and fuels research and development.

Beyond electricity

Both the UK and Japan see the strong potential of this next-generation reactor to decarbonise industrial processes due to its ability to produce high grade heat. The heat from the reactor can be used directly for industrial processes, for example in the large-scale production of hydrogen – a key net zero solution for the most difficult to decarbonise sectors of industry and transport.

Accelerating future fuels

Innovation in nuclear reactor technology goes hand in hand with fuel development, as high temperature gas reactors require a specific fuel – known as coated particle fuel or TRISO fuel. It comprises tiny particles of uranium coated in silicon carbide and graphite and is considered the most robust nuclear fuel. This partnership builds on the government-funded Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme – which was the UK’s biggest investment in the nuclear fuel cycle in a generation.

Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, said: “Investing in cutting-edge research and development is a key part of our plans to generate up to a quarter of all the UK’s electricity from nuclear by 2050 – helping to grow the economy, reduce bills, reach net zero and strengthen our energy security.

“The UK is at the forefront of nuclear innovation, and today’s agreement will see greater collaboration with our Japanese partners to accelerate next generation technologies like Advanced Modular Reactors and take nuclear to the next level.”

Paul Howarth, CEO, National Nuclear Laboratory said: “These programmes build on our long partnership with JAEA, who we have collaborated with for civil nuclear power for over 20 years. Our joint decades of experience enable us to accelerate the design of these new reactors and fuels building on the UK’s experience in gas cooled reactor technology.”

Gareth Headdock, Vice President Government and New Build adds: “This investment will allow our scientists and engineers to continue work with JAEA on the design of the reactor and the manufacture of advanced fuels to bring this proven technology to the UK to meet our urgent energy security and net zero goals.”

Minister Nishimura, Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry said: “Both Japan and the UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), have decided to provide policy support for the UK-Japan joint development project for a High Temperature Gas Reactor, that is expected to contribute to decarbonization not only in terms of power generation but also in terms of hydrogen and heat use.”

President Masanori Koguchi, Japan Atomic Energy Agency concludes: “No single country is able to address such tremendous challenges alone. I believe that international co-operation among like-minded states such as the UK and Japan is crucial to maximise the commercialisation of nuclear energy research and development.”