SONE Newsletter 283 – January 2023

Posted by Wade Allison on 23 January 2023 in Newsletters

Tagged with: BEIS, BWRX-300, Moltex, Net Zero, New Nuclear, Nuclear waste, Penultimate Power, Robert Oppenheimer, Rolls-Royce, Wind.

This month

News of New Nuclear in UK

Reports of activity have been coming thick and fast since the last Newsletter. I should apologise that many developments are missing from the following summary, but the general mood is more positive for investment in nuclear power than for many a year. Nevertheless, more energy is needed to heat the cold feet in Whitehall. BEIS needs to take decisive action rather than following regulations and hiding behind a wall of paper, as they instinctively do. What are they afraid of? They should follow the Churchillian way, make a decision and stamp it “Action this day!”

They should note the optimism of a well trusted commentator in the US:

The hottest near term market for small modular reactors appears to be in the UK. In December six developers of SMRs, which have power ratings of 50-300 MWe, submitted applications to the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to enter the generic design assessment (GDA) process that leads to licensing a reactor to be built there.

The UK Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) issued a report on the virtual avalanche of paper, in digital form, that descended on the ONR. The GDA is a complicated and expensive regulatory process that assesses new nuclear reactor designs for safety, security and environmental impacts.

More than 70 designs of small modular reactor are in development in 18 countries, according to the IAEA. In January 2023, BEIS confirmed that six developers have submitted their designs to the UK GDA process:

  • GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 is a 300MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR, with passive safety systems adapted from the US-licenced ESBWR. GE Hitachi says it will achieve construction and operating costs which are substantially lower than traditional nuclear technologies, and could be deployed by 2028.

  • Holtec’s SMR-160 is a 160MWe pressurised water reactor, developed in collaboration with Mitsubishi Electric of Japan and Hyundai Engineering and Construction of Korea. US-based Holtec proposes to deploy 32 SMR-160s (5.1 GWe total) in serial production in the UK by 2050.

  • X-energy is developing a high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR) for industrial decarbonisation as well as electricity generation. X-energy says its first units will be deployed in the US from 2027, with the UK to follow. The US-based firm is working with Cavendish Nuclear on UK development.

  • Newcleo is developing a lead-cooled fast reactor. The UK-Italian company is aiming to commercialise a 30MWe micro-reactor by 2030, followed by a 200MWe reactor fuelled by waste from existing nuclear plant.

  • UK Atomics, a subsidiary of Danish business Copenhagen Atomics, is developing a containerised thorium molten salt reactor, and aiming for deployment in 2028.

  • GMET is developing a reactor called NuCell, but is yet to release details. The UK engineering group says it will base production at TSP Engineering’s factory in Workington, Cumbria.

But there are other major runners and riders in the UK, including

Separate from these smaller fission reactors, the case for Sizewell C seems to be settled apart from detailed financial arrangements with investors.

The development of fusion also enters the discussion of nuclear. There have been significant developments and there is competition to attract young people with its promise. However, in my view it is not yet ripe for deployment and still has many basic questions to answer. It Please email me if you disagree and we can post a discussion.

Among the new fission reactor designs there is the option to get away from water with its need for high pressure. The advantages are the higher temperature, increased thermodynamic efficiency and absence of pressure vessels. This should justify the case for a critical reduction in the extent of any Emergency Planning Zone surrounding a reactor, thereby possibly facilitating adequate regulation of nuclear powered ships visiting foreign ports.

This high temperature is possible with molten salt as coolant (UK Atomics, MoltexFLEX), lead (Newcleo), or helium (the HTGRs). The length of working life for all these reactors depends on the modular construction (that facilitates the replacement of components) and the ageing processes including radiation damage and corrosion at high temperatures. (The reason that British AGRs cannot be given further life extensions to their already long service is that components cannot be replaced.) The difference between the competing designs includes the variety of fuels used, its enrichment and processing. Attention is being given to the provision of Low Assay Highly Enriched Uranium (HALEU), up to 20%, in the UK and also the manufacture of the encapsulated TRISO nuclear fuel

Top 10 countries by nuclear capacity under construction: showing, in order, China, India, Turkey, South Korea, UK,Russia, UEA, Japan, US,Bangldesh.

There is clearly intense competition for manpower as well as funding. The race is on, but where is the starting flag? Decisions need to be made soon to avoid needless damage to the international view of nuclear in the UK. To be financially viable a fair number of reactors of a given design has to be built with a firm export market. Other countries are not waiting – the diagram above tells the story. Does the Government have the resolve to stop dithering and make the decision? It seems that a new body, Great Britain Nuclear (GBN), is to be set up to make the decisions, but this has not happened yet. When the chimney is built, we can look for the smoke signals, it seems.

Robert Oppenheimer’s name cleared

The fear-driven politics of the McCarthy era are often forgotten today. Robert Oppenheimer was the distinguished scientist who lead the Manhattan Project and whose reputation was besmirched when it was suspected that he was a communist sympathiser and so a likely spy. It is good to learn that this wrong has been put right, even after all these years.

At the Science Museum organised by COREPOWER 6 Oct 2022

“Why nuclear energy should be powering shipping safely by 2050” A brief talk given at the first international in-person conference for shipping interests. Slides with notes are posted on the SONE website:

At the Frontier Energy “2050 Summit Conference” London 24 Nov 2022

Organised by Frontier Energy, and sponsored by various energy interests including oil. “Energy for 2030 and 2050: The non-negotiable requirements of science, economics, and the environment”. Slides with notes are posted on the SONE website:

MISSION ZERO: Independent Review of Net Zero by Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP

This report was published a few days ago by the Government with a great fanfare in the media.

It is very “green”, voluminous (340 pages) and little help to anyone, as far as I can see. Nowhere does it attempt to pit technical solutions against one another. It is essentially science-free and encourages everything possible from Carbon Capture to Nuclear and all manner of renewables. It may satisfy politicians in their dealings with the media, but will not help those who should decide what technologies are permitted and what are supported. A ditherer’s charter.

Download a copy yourself and take a look

A view on low level nuclear waste

The following was posted recently on LinkedIn by a senior safety manager with responsibility in the UK (and reproduced with his permission):

One of our big expenditures as an industry is the management of Very Low Level Waste (VLLW). It costs millions per station per year. Yet virtually all of it, if not all of it, is packaging and materials that have been taken into our Radiological Controlled Areas (RCA) (the security controlled zones allowing access to our nuclear plant) but have never been anywhere near anything radiologically “hot”. We regularly have internal campaigns to raise awareness within the workforce to attempt to address behaviours such that packaging is removed before entry – just to reduce the cost and unnecessary burden.

That waste management stream is replicated pretty much industry-wide purely to allow ourselves and the regulator to meet legislation which was entirely driven by public fear and perception. This is just one of many processes which we follow as a responsible operator but which is driven primarily by political drivers against fear of radiation rather than reality.”

Wind energy

There is good news that South Korea is pushing nuclear in place of Renewables

And then here are two articles that debunk investment in wind energy.

The first by a third party is posted on the Internet

The second, a short home-grown article entitled “The failure of wind as a reliable source of electrical energy”, was posted on LinkedIn on 16 Jan and proved immediately popular around the world, receiving 63,815 viewings with 1565 actual readings within 48 hours. LinkedIn is frequented by young professionals and students, many looking either for a job or to recruit. The feedback says that more people who viewed the article are in the oil/gas industry than any other. Locations are London, Houston, Calgary, Aberdeen. Perhaps this is a case of “if you want to see if the ship is sinking, watch the rats”. Could young oil/gas professionals be looking at nuclear? Or even older ones? These readers are certainly not housewives! I shall continue to post on LinkedIn. The article concerned is also posted on the SONE website.

Wade Allison
Hon. Sec.
20 Jan 2023