The launch of GBN saw the opening of registration for companies to participate in a competition to secure funding support to develop their products. This is mainly focused around developing small modular reactors (SMRs) in the UK. As the government explains: “Unlike conventional reactors that are built on site, SMRs are smaller, can be made in factories and could transform how power stations are built by making construction faster, and less expensive.”
Rolls-Royce is the most advanced in developing SMRs as the leader of the UK SMR consortium, which features Atkins, Bam Nuttall, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, TWI and Assystem.
Its design for a 470MW SMR passed the first assessment hurdle in April this year. It has now moved on to Step 2 of the generic design assessment process, which is expected to take 16 months.
Rolls-Royce is acting quickly though, having released a shortlist of three potential locations for its heavy pressure vessels factory, which will produce components for a fleet of SMRs. It has also met with stakeholders at potential sites for its first SMR in Oldbury and Berkeley. It is aiming to power up the first SMR in 2029 or early 2030s.
Meanwhile, another UK-based nuclear start up called Newcleo is working on its own SMR design that would use nuclear waste. It is currently seeking to raise up to £1bn to fund its delivery roadmap for its SMR, known as the Mini 30MWe LFR that will be deployed in France. This will then be followed by the 200Mwe commercial unit to be deployed in the UK two years later.
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation’s micro modular reactor
GBN has granted £22.5M to Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) for the development of its micro modular reactor (MMR), a type of advanced modular reactor (AMR) suited to UK industrial demands including hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel production.
USNC has match-funded the £22.5M to enable the second phase of work toward building a UK demonstrator. It has appointed Jacobs to support the design and development of the MMR.
Unlike other nuclear reactors, the MMR uses no water and has no need for an electrical grid or infrastructure support. It is usable in extreme climates.
The MMR’s fully ceramic micro-encapsulated fuel provides inherent reactor safety. Industry-standard TRISO particles, which contain the radioactive byproducts of fission within layered ceramic coatings, are encased within a fully dense silicon carbide matrix. This combination provides an extremely rugged and stable fuel with extraordinary high temperature stability.
The Seattle-based company has plans to deploy its MMRs in Poland, Finland, Canada and the USA. It has demonstration projects underway at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and at the University of Illinios.
The demonstration units are scheduled for first nuclear power in 2026.
National Nuclear Laboratory’s next generation high temperature reactor
GBN has committed £15M to the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in Warrington. It is working with the Japan Atomic Energy Authority to accelerate the development of a high temperature reactor, which has already been successful in Japan.
The next generation high temperature gas cooled reactors have now reached design phase. This reactor delivers much higher outlet temperatures than existing technology, allowing the heat to be used directly to decarbonise industrial processes. It will enable the large-scale production of hydrogen via electrochemical or thermochemical processes.
National Nuclear Laboratory’s sovereign coated particle fuel capability
High-temperature reactors use coated particle fuel and GBN has committed £16M to the NNL in Preston to continue developing its sovereign coated particle fuel capability, a critical enabler for the UK’s future energy security.
The NNL recently celebrated the casting of active fuel kernels at scale. These kernels form the tiny particles of uranium, that are subsequently coated in four layers of ceramic and carbon creating coated particle fuel. Often referred to as ‘the most robust nuclear fuel’, each coated particle is roughly the size of a poppy seed – with the uranium kernel housed inside its own miniature container vessel.
New nuclear fuels
GBN’s Nuclear Fuel Fund is forking out £22.3M to enable eight projects to develop new fuel production and manufacturing capabilities in the UK.
The biggest sum has gone to Springfields Fuels in Preston, part of the Westinghouse Group, which has received £10.5M. Nuclear fuel fabrication services have taken place at the site since the mid-1940s and today Springfield Fuels designs, manufactures and delivers fuel for nuclear plants. This includes the manufacture of oxide fuels for Advanced Gas-cooled and Light Water Reactors, as well as intermediate fuel products, such as powders, granules and pellets.
A £9.56M sum has been committed to Urenco UK in Chester, a specialist in the production of advanced fuels for nuclear reactors of tomorrow. The funds will be used for the concept design of plants and processes supporting the further development of advanced fuels. It will also look at enriching uranium to higher levels to allow for reactors to run for longer between refuelling outages.
MoltexFLEX, a UK molten salt reactor (MSR) developer, received £1.3M. MSRs are a type of AMR that use separate molten salts as a coolant and fuel, leading to intrinsic safety compared with conventional fuels. The funds from the Nuclear Fuel Fund will be used to develop detailed technical plans for commercial-scale delivery of its low-enriched uranium fuel salt. MoltexFLEX has developed significant proprietary data on fuel design and is expecting to partner with a major fuel supplier to establish a pathway to commercial production.
Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS) is the recipient of over £1M for the development of a new transport package that will support a new generation of nuclear reactors. The fuel – High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) – is more energy dense and requires less fuel than current nuclear power production. HALEU requires innovative transportation solutions to ensure it can be moved safely and securely to new reactor. NTS’ new package will be versatile to allow the transport of HALEU in multiple forms, such as powder or fuel elements.
Advanced Nuclear Business Development
As part of the funding package announced in conjunction with the launch of GBN, the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) committed up to £77.1M of funding for companies to accelerate advanced nuclear business development in the UK. This will help and support advanced nuclear designs to enter UK regulation and maximise the chance of SMRs and AMRs being built in the next Parliament.
Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C
While no new funds were specifically designated to the development of the UK’s in-progress large-scale nuclear power plants, the government’s announcement of GBN mentioned that it “remains committed” to them.
Last year the government committed £700M to the development of Sizewell C, a new 3,200MWe nuclear plant in Suffolk that is currently in the design phase. Sizewell C managing director Julia Pyke has said that the launch of GBN is “another big vote of confidence in Sizewell C”.
Hinkley Point C is an under-construction 3,200MWe nuclear plant in Somerset. Its first nuclear reactor arrived on site in February and it is nearing the completion of its undersea work. However, it has faced numerous construction setbacks and is now not expected to power up until the mid 2030s.