The UK government has allocated a total of £102 million to support both nuclear and hydrogen innovation in a bid to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint.
Of this funding, nuclear has received a large allocation of financial support with £77 million being injected to spur the development of the UK’s nuclear sector. As part of the funding, the UK government will look to develop the next generation of nuclear modules in the form of high-temperature gas reactors (HTGR), a type of advanced modular reactor (AMR).
AMRs present a unique opportunity for the UK. These smaller and more flexible nuclear generators could be built at a lower cost, and provide the grid with low-carbon electricity. However, many of these will not be available until the 2030s, meaning that their impact on the current energy crisis is minimal.
Despite this, AMRs have the right perquisites to produce substantial amounts of low-carbon energy and could be instrumental in the UK’s energy transition.
HTGRs are a unique type of AMR and can operate at very high temperatures. According to the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), the reactors use a graphite-moderated gas-cooled nuclear reactor with a once-through uranium fuel cycle. This typically can generate large amounts of energy and could also allow the creation of by-products from the nuclear process, such as pink hydrogen.
The high temperatures generated from the HTGRs could additionally provide an extra avenue in the decarbonisation of various sectors. The heat generated could be utilised in a variety of industrial processes and hard-to-abate sectors, proving more potential for these reactors to decarbonise vast areas of the UK and support its net zero plans.
Another unique aspect of the HTGRs is that they can be developed for a fraction of the cost of a fully fledged nuclear power station. Sizewell C for instance, a 3.2GW nuclear project being developed by EDF Energy in Suffolk, is set to cost around £20 billion. The UK government recently secured a £700 million stake in Sizewell C in a bid to accelerate its development and boost the UK’s energy security.
The funding, from the Advanced Modular Reactor R&D programme, aims to get a demonstration project of the engineering design up and running by the end of the decade.
“This funding package will strengthen our energy security, by ensuring we have a safe and secure supply of domestic nuclear fuel services – while also creating more UK jobs and export opportunities,” said Energy and Climate Minister Graham Stuart.
In addition to this, £4 million has also been allocated to support the AMR Knowledge Capture Project. This project aims to facilitate research and knowledge capture to reduce the time taken to develop AMR projects in the UK. It will also look to reduce the costs associated with the creation of AMR projects.
The final funding for the nuclear sector sees £13 million injected for nuclear fuel fabricators Westinghouse in Preston. In a bid to increase the UK’s energy security, the government has provided finance to support the project which converts both reprocessed uranium and freshly mined uranium to make fuel for the UK’s nuclear projects.
In doing so, this means the UK will be able to use existing nuclear fuel to power its nuclear projects. This will reduce the reliance on importing uranium. Should this be successful, the UK could boost its international nuclear status by exporting uranium to other countries.
“There is a strong global appetite for diversified and secure sources of supply of fuel and services and the UK’s nuclear excellence and experience, particularly at Springfields, offer utilities an attractive option,” said Tarik Choho, president of Nuclear Fuel at Westinghouse.
“We are delighted the UK government recognises the role of Springfields, and its workforce, as a strategic asset that supports a clean and secure energy future.”
This investment in the UK’s nuclear sector comes as international eyes turned to nuclear fusion following a major scientific breakthrough.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) confirmed the achievement of fusion ignition at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).
The breakthrough became the “first” controlled fusion experiment in history to achieve scientific energy breakeven, meaning more energy was produced from the fusion reaction than was used to power the laser to drive it, the DOE said.
In doing so this proves the ability for nuclear fusion to produce large quantities of energy across the globe and it is expected that efforts to scale the technology will increase following this breakthrough.
Nuclear fusion forms part of the UK government’s long-term plans to harness new technologies to build what it described as a “strong, home-grown energy sector” that reduces reliance on fossil fuels and exposure to volatile global gas prices.
West Burton in Nottinghamshire has already been selected as the home for the UK’s first fusion energy plant which will be developed as part of the government-backed Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project.
The plant, which will be built by 2040, will aim to deliver safe, sustainable, low carbon energy for the UK on its path towards net zero emissions.
Alongside the UK government’s investment in nuclear, it has also allocated £25 million to spur the creation of hydrogen through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
According to the government, BECCS could play a unique role in the decarbonisation of various UK sectors with the technology having “negative emissions”, meaning it can remove carbon from the atmosphere. Biomass absorbs carbon during growth which is then captured and permanently stored during the hydrogen generation process.
The creation of clean hydrogen via this method could enable deeper decarbonisation for hard-to-abate sectors within the UK. With electrification only being optimal for certain aspects of the industries, hydrogen can prove to be a perfect complement to reduce carbon emissions within various industrial processes such as steelmaking.
The funding is set to go towards progressing BECCS projects from the design stage to demonstration, supporting the technology to eventually become integrated as part of the everyday energy system.
“With its potential to go one step further than net zero and be carbon negative – removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere – this hydrogen technology will be crucial to achieving our climate goals,” said Energy Minister Lord Callanan.
“Our £25 million government funding to develop this technology will help unlock private investment and generate new green jobs – all while cutting carbon emissions.”
In addition to this funding, the UK government has also announced proposals to set higher efficiency standards for gas boilers to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels. In a bid to do so, a new proposal will be consulted that aims to ensure all new domestic-scale gas boilers sold from 2026 are capable of being powered by hydrogen, to prepare for any potential future transition to the use of low-carbon hydrogen for heating.
A crucial aspect in scaling the hydrogen sector is the creation of an initial market. By ensuring new boilers are able to run on hydrogen, this could be achieved and thus help spur the production aspect of the hydrogen industry.
“It’s good to see the next stage of implementation of the Hydrogen Strategy, particularly the consultation on the proposal to make new gas boilers hydrogen-ready. To maintain market confidence and investment, industry needs the government to keep up the momentum, particularly on decisions to create demand for hydrogen and progress the hydrogen business models,” said Jane Toogood, the UK’s hydrogen champion.