Government to invest in the next generation of nuclear reactors

5 August 2021

The Government has announced a £170 million investment boost to have the latest nuclear technology up and running within the next decade.

Plans have been set out to build the UK’s first advanced modular reactor (AMR) demonstrator as the most promising nuclear option to support net zero commitments by 2050.

Ministers have agreed to invest £170 million in high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs) as their preferred option for the UK’s AMR Programme. AMRs are smaller and more flexible than conventional nuclear power stations and could be built at a fraction of a cost. The reactors use novel coolants and/or fuels, and typically have temperature outputs in the range of 500–950°C, compared to around 300°C for Light Water Nuclear Reactors (LWRs).

The high temperature heat could help decarbonise industry, power district heating networks and support future low carbon hydrogen production. Minister of State for Energy, Anne Marie Trevelyan, said that whilst renewables will be an integral part of UK electricity supply, the system needs a stable nuclear baseload, which is why the Government is “pressing ahead with harnessing new advanced nuclear 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,” Trevelyan added.

Around a third (37%) of the UK’s carbon emissions come from heat, with a significant portion from heavy industrial processes. By generating heat at temperatures higher than other types of AMRs, HTGRs could significantly cut emissions from processes such as cement, paper, glass and chemical production in the UK’s industrial heartlands.

Commenting on the announcement, Fellow at the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, Dame Sue Ion, said: “This proposal is extremely welcome news and demonstrates the tremendous potential of advanced nuclear power, which could be expanded safely to improve the overall efficiency of our energy system, but also help decarbonize difficult to help heavy industry, to help meet the UK’s net-zero goal.”

The Government is inviting views on the potential of HTGRs. Further details are available in Call for Evidence.