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Nuclear reactors unlikely to help decarbonise energy grid, MPs warn

Published 13/02/2024, 09:00
Updated 13/02/2024, 09:10
© Reuters.  Nuclear reactors unlikely to help decarbonise energy grid, MPs warn

Proactive Investors - Questions have been asked over how Britain’s anticipated rollout of small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) technology will aid energy decarbonisation targets.

Though the government has championed SMR technology in the planned decarbonisation of the UK’s energy grid, the Environmental Audit Committee argued on Tuesday that such reactors may not be built in time to even play a part.

“The first SMR is unlikely to be in operation by 2035, the date ministers have set for decarbonising the electricity supply,” environmental audit chair Philip Dunne pointed out in a letter to energy secretary Claire Coutinho.

“So, what role will SMRs have in an energy mix dominated by renewables and supplemented by existing and emerging large-scale nuclear?”

SMR technology, which is hoped to be cheaper and quicker to build than conventional reactors, is being spearheaded by the likes of Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC (LON:RR.).

Under new government body Great British Nuclear, the rollout of SMRs will be partly publicly funded and is expected from the early 2030s.

This is ultimately set to see modularised generators installed, which are based on standardised designs and so can largely be built in factories, to help make up government targets for 24 gigawatts of UK nuclear energy capacity by 2050.

However, the Environmental Audit Committee noted that government plans accounted for scenarios where as little as 12 gigawatts worth of capacity is rolled out come 2050.

“Uncertainty risks knock-on effects for industry confidence: not only for investment decisions relating to the initial build and the construction of factories to build reactor modules, but also for the support and growth of supply chains and skills,” Dunne added.

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“We simply don’t yet know how much SMRs will contribute to electricity generation in the country, nor how much the roll-out is likely to cost the taxpayer.”

This comes after reports emerged on Monday that the government was in talks to buy land in north Wales suitable for housing a new nuclear reactor.

Westinghouse laid out plans last week to roll out its SMR technology via a private deal meanwhile, potentially seeking an alternative route to the government’s scheme.

How such plans develop remain to be seen though, with Rolls-Royce, GE Hitachi and Holtec the only companies to have submitted designs for regulatory assessment in the UK so far.

Read more on Proactive Investors UK

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I would have thought of moving away from Expensive nuclear plants that cost an arm and a leg to build and which we no longer can do for ourselves. The whole point of modular reactors is that they can be built in a factory transported and assembled. Try doing that with Hinkley Point. It doesn't help that the first order to be built is not by a UK company thus inhibiting export sales of our own manufacturer
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