The government has issued a call for evidence as it looks to advance to building the first advanced modular reactor (AMR) demonstrator in the UK.
These smaller and more flexible nuclear generators could be built at a lower cost, and both provide the grid with low-carbon electricity and help generate hydrogen the government hopes. Additionally, given the extremely high temperatures they create, AMRs could potentially power district heating networks by 2040.
In particular, the government is looking to explore high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs), which it said are the most promising model for the demonstration programme. Ministers are investing £170 million into delivering these AMRs by the early 2030s.
“While renewables like wind and solar will become an integral part of where our electricity will come from by 2050, they will always require a stable low-carbon baseload from nuclear,” said energy minister Anne Marie Trevelyan. “That is why, alongside negotiations with the developers of Sizewell C in Suffolk, we are pressing ahead with harnessing new and exciting advanced nuclear technology.”
AMRs use new forms of fuel and coolants in comparison to traditional nuclear plants. There are six main types of reactor technology, including some which use spent nuclear materials.
The call for evidence – which invites the industry and public to contribute their views of the potential of HTGRs for the AMR demonstration project – builds on previous commitments to new nuclear technologies from the government. This includes a £365 R&D programme laid out in the energy white paper at the end of 2020.
As well as AMRs, the government is looking into the development of small modular reactors, a form of pressurised water reactor technology.
“Advanced modular reactors are the next level of modern nuclear technology and have the potential to play a crucial role not only in tackling carbon emissions, but also in powering industry and driving forward Britain’s economic growth, as we build back greener,” added Trevelyan.
Across the UK, the share of nuclear energy on the grid has been falling as aged nuclear power plants retire. Currently, there is only one new nuclear plant under construction, the delayed and overbudget Hinkley Point C in Somerset.
Meanwhile, renewables have been growing to meet an increasing amount of the UK’s electricity demand, accounting for 43.1% of power generation in 2020.