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Civil nuclear

New and advanced nuclear power will help power the economy and deliver deep decarbonisation of the UK’s energy system.

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Nuclear energy has been used reliably and safely in the UK for over 60 years. We have extensive experience of the full nuclear life cycle, from front-end design through to decommissioning. According to August 2021 data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), nuclear power plants generate 18.3% of the UK’s electricity.

The UK’s electricity system will grow and could double in size by 2050 as demand for low-carbon electricity in sectors like heat and transport rises. Nuclear power provides a reliable source of low-carbon electricity and with the advent of advanced nuclear technologies could also have a role in ‘beyond the grid’ applications such as low carbon hydrogen, synthetic fuel production and heat for industrial or domestic uses. It is a key part of the UK’s energy mix.

The government is committed to advancing large, small and advanced reactors as part of the ten point plan for a green industrial revolution. The Energy White Paper confirms it is aiming to bring “at least one more” large-scale power plant to a Final Investment Decision, as well as investing in advanced nuclear technologies like small modular reactors (SMRs).

Opportunity highlights

There are opportunities across the nuclear life cycle with the UK pursuing large-scale nuclear projects, while also looking to the future of nuclear power with key investment opportunities in Advanced Nuclear Technologies as well as a large decommissioning programme.

New build

The UK’s nuclear new-build programme is being led by Hinkley Point C. The construction and operations of this site will provide 3.2GW of secure, low carbon electricity for around 60 years, and create 25,000 job opportunities and 1,000 apprenticeships.

If approved Sizewell C could create and support 233,000 jobs across the UK and attract £25 billion private sector investment over a 10-year period.

Decommissioning and waste management

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is responsible for the decommissioning and cleaning up of our civil public sector nuclear legacy, with an annual budget of £3.1 billion. With the global decommissioning market to 2030 worth £250 billion, there will be many opportunities for long-term international collaboration on these projects.

Advanced nuclear technologies (SMRs and AMRs)

A total of £385 million is being made available in the form of an Advanced Nuclear Fund. This will enable investment of up to £215 million into Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). This will develop a domestic smaller-scale power plant technology design that could potentially be built in factories and assembled on site. This investment will unlock up to £300 million of private sector match-funding.

The UK is also committing up to £170 million for an Advanced Modular Reactor Research, Development & Demonstration (RD&D) programme, which aims to build an AMR demonstrator by the early 2030s, at the latest.

A key objective is to demonstrate that AMRs can produce high temperature heat which could be used for low-carbon hydrogen production, process heat for industrial and domestic use and cost-competitive electricity generation.

Nuclear fusion

Fusion could be the ultimate clean-power solution, representing a low-carbon, safe, continuous and sustainable source of energy. The UK is widely recognised as a world-leader in the most promising fusion technologies. The UK can capitalise on its scientific and technical expertise and lead the commercialisation of fusion energy.

Building on decades of study at globally unique research facilities, the UK government has committed £220 million to develop the world-leading STEP (spherical tokamak for energy production) programme, to build a prototype fusion power plant in the UK by 2040.

A further £184 million has been committed to develop new fusion facilities, infrastructure and apprenticeships to lay the foundations of a global hub for fusion innovation in the UK.

Other applications

The UK is also considering the wider role of nuclear power outside of just electricity production, presenting further opportunities including District Heating Networks, hydrogen and synthetic fuel production, supply of heat for industrial and domestic uses and the production of medical isotopes.

Commercial maturity

The UK has a mature large-scale nuclear build programme including the construction of Hinkley Point C, a 3,200MWe nuclear power station comprising 2 EPR reactors in Somerset, England, with plan to construct a near ‘replica’ plant at Sizewell in Suffolk.

The UK is actively exploring advanced nuclear technologies including domestic smaller-scale power plant technology designs. SMRs/AMRs could also unlock more efficient production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels, complementing current and future investments in carbon, hydrogen and offshore wind.

Key UK assets

The nuclear sector employs more than 61,000 full time equivalent employees, including within the supply chain across the UK, and contributes £6.4 billion to the economy each year. Nuclear is a key employer in many communities, offering high-value jobs in the South West, the East of England, the Northern Powerhouse, Wales and Scotland, making further nuclear development an important part of the UK’s levelling up agenda.

For example, the Northern Powerhouse represents full fuel cycle capabilities, undertaking everything from uranium enrichment to fuel manufacture, spent fuel management, waste management and decommissioning. The South West is delivering £50 billion of nuclear opportunities over the next decade.

The UK is also strong in fuel cycle services, including the manufacture of power reactor fuel at Springfields for all light water and gas cooled reactors, and the transport of fresh and spent fuel. Urenco supplies fuel enrichment services to 17 countries (from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands).

The UK offers the best legal, financial and regulatory advice to nuclear projects at home and abroad and UK scientists and engineers have vast R&D expertise covering every part of the fuel cycle and access to some of the world’s best facilities.

Key research and innovation assets include:

  • Nuclear AMRC – part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and helping UK companies win work across the nuclear sector
  • National Nuclear Laboratory – a UK government owned and operated nuclear services technology provider covering the whole of the nuclear fuel cycle
  • Culham Centre for Fusion Energy – the UK’s national fusion research laboratory
  • Sci-Tech Daresbury – world leading scientific excellence in a diverse variety of fields including nuclear physics
  • Dalton Nuclear Institute – the umbrella organisation for nuclear activity at Manchester, co-ordinating the most advanced nuclear research capability in UK academia

Academic research centres also include:

  • Imperial
  • Bristol-Oxford Nuclear Research Centre
  • The ICL Centre for Nuclear Engineering
  • The University of Cambridge Nuclear Energy Centre
  • UCLan Nuclear
  • The University of Birmingham Nuclear Research Centre
  • The University of Strathclyde Advanced Nuclear Research Centre

R&D capability

The UK is a leading force in global nuclear R&D. Some of the best R&D facilities in the world are in the UK and the scientists and engineers have huge R&D expertise covering every part of the fuel cycle. They also have access to some of the world’s best facilities. 

Current programmes include advanced nuclear technologies, reactors technology, spent fuels handling, waste, materials, fusion, and advanced fuels development.

Business and government support

The UK has an internationally respected nuclear regulator in the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), which operates on an outcome-based approach, supporting innovation and new investments into the sector.

ONR independently regulates safety and security at 36 licensed nuclear sites in the UK. These include the existing fleet of operating reactors, fuel cycle facilities, waste management and decommissioning sites and the defence nuclear sector.

It also regulates the design and construction of new nuclear facilities and the transport of nuclear and radioactive materials.

The Environment Agency (EA) regulates activities involving radioactive substances on nuclear and non-nuclear sites in England for the protection of people and the environment. This includes receipt, storage and disposal of radioactive waste and regulating the use of radioactive materials.

National Resource Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency provide similar regulatory services to nuclear and non-nuclear sites in Wales and Scotland.

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Case studies

The Low-Cost Nuclear Challenge

The Low-Cost Nuclear Challenge aims to develop a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) designed and manufactured in the UK capable of producing cost effective electricity.

An initial £36 million joint public and private investment granted in late 2019 has enabled the consortium, led by Rolls-Royce, to develop a concept design.

A second larger follow-on phase is planned to form part of a greater award from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. In total this will be worth over £500 million in a joint investment with the private sector, subject to future approvals and a final decision to make a public investment.

STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production)

The UK government has committed £220 million to the conceptual design of a fusion power station, the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP). STEP will be the UK’s prototype fusion plant and is intended to pave the way for commercial fusion power.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is targeting first operations in the early 2040s, with initial aims to produce a concept design by 2024.  It will be a spherical tokamak, connected to the National Grid and producing net energy.

The spinouts from the design work are expected to be enormous, both in terms of synergies with other fusion powerplant design activities and other hi-tech industries.

General Fusion Demonstration Plant (FDP)

In June 2021, UKAEA and General Fusion announced an agreement for General Fusion to build and operate its Fusion Demonstration Plant (FDP) at UKAEA’s Culham Campus.

General Fusion will enter into a long-term lease with UKAEA following construction of a new facility at Culham to host the FDP. It will demonstrate General Fusion’s proprietary Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology, paving the way for its commercial pilot plant.

General Fusion will benefit from the cluster of fusion supply chain activities in the UK, centred on UKAEA’s globally recognised expertise and presence in the field.

It’s also strongly aligned with UKAEA’s mission and the development of the Culham site as a leading location for developing fusion energy and a key location for the UK fusion cluster.