Fresh calls for government to find new nuclear sites to boost sector

The government is being put under increasing pressure to find new sites for nuclear power stations and help quicken the approval of reactors, after a new report called for an end to delays in decisions.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) report, Nuclear Power: A Future Pathway for the UK, follows government announcements last week on its support for the next generation of nuclear technologies.  It believes an independent review of the generic design assessment process is needed, which is a necessary step for the approval of any reactor in the UK. The report states how the review should ensure that costs are not unnecessarily added and to enable the faster approval of small modular reactors (SMRs).

Other critical points of the report include a need for experienced workers from oversees to enter the UK to address the shortage of nuclear construction skills and running a new strategic siting assessment to identify further nuclear sites beyond Hinkley Point C's potential completion in 2025, including locations for SMRs. The nuclear pathway set out in IMechE’s report is said to be achieved by a commitment to replacing old nuclear with new nuclear by 2030, and having a fleet of affordable SMRs by 2040. 

IMechE's nuclear pathway can be met by removing the following 'roadblocks':

  • Addressing Brexatom urgently, otherwise the entire UK nuclear industry will not be able to function.
  • Publish a firm timetable and plan for the delivery of the geological disposal facility.
  • Take forward firm plans for plutonium disposition, in particular, seriously consider how the PRISM SMR could be used to deliver a number of the objectives

Commenting on the report, Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “The delays and escalating costs of the Hinkley Point C project, has provoked a public backlash in recent years against nuclear power. Yet as a reliable and relatively low carbon source of electricity, it makes sense for nuclear to form a greater part of the UK’s future energy mix, reducing our reliance on coal and gas. “The key challenge is to reduce costs and delays, which is why the institution is proposing that government commissions an independent review of the GDA process to ensure that unnecessary costs are not incurred and to make it easier to approve SMRs. 

The report has been published just a few weeks after chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his budget which failed to address much in relation to the nuclear sector. Tim Yeo, chairman of New Nuclear Watch Europe, believes more can be done by the government to reduce uncertainty. “The budget was focused on issues which the government clearly felt were more urgent or important than energy pricing and HPC,” he said. “It isn't the first time energy policy has not featured prominently in a budget. However the publication recently of the Clean Growth Strategy, the Helm review and the NAO and PAC reports on HPC mean that a clarification of government policy on these issues is needed very soon," said Yeo.

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