The UK benefits from an established knowledge base and supply chain in nuclear power plant operations, but there is competition for nuclear to prove itself economically against other low carbon options.
There is a vibrant global start up mentality emerging in the nuclear power industry looking at how to develop alternatives to traditional large scale reactor provision. However, it is yet to emerge whether nuclear will be constrained to traditional baseload generation or whether a broader role will develop to complement the growth of other low carbon technologies.
Evidence from projects carried out by the ETI has shown that SMRs could be cost-effective but further work is needed to improve the economics of their construction and operation.
There are also economic benefits from deploying SMRs as combined heat and power (CHP) plants to energise district heating networks so they should be deployed as CHP ready and such designs should address future energy system requirements to ensure they are fit for purpose to deliver power and heat giving system flexibility.
The requirement to innovate to improve the predictability and affordability of new nuclear power plants has never been stronger.
The challenge to overcome is how new nuclear projects are financed so they move away from overseas and government equity funding schemes such as for Hinkley Point C. This is where new thinking on construction has a number of roles to play.
Future nuclear technologies will only be deployed if there is a market need and such technologies provide the most cost effective solution; the nuclear industry has a challenge to demonstrate how it can reduce costs as more UK new nuclear projects come forward, and also demonstrate competitiveness alongside other low carbon options within the energy mix such as renewables.
An inability to “get match fit” and demonstrate cost reductions will result in other options – such as renewables – becoming more prevalent in a future UK energy system.
It’s also important to determine whether the UK is going to be at the forefront of a growing global nuclear industry with the economic benefits of domestic design and production bring or become a consumer of nuclear technologies provided by others.