Are SMRs the future of the UK nuclear industry?

All eyes in the UK nuclear industry are on Hinkley Point C, but will this next generation 3,200 MWe behemoth one day be complemented by SMRs?

The nuclear industry is constantly evolving with new technologies making it safer and more affordable to deliver more power with greater efficiency. With the UK’s current generation of nuclear power plants set to be decommissioned by 2025, the next generation of power stations is being ushered in. The groundwork is already well underway for Hinkley Point C and stations at Moorside and Wylfa Newydd are also progressing.

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These are huge projects with significant implications on our national grid (Hinkley Point C is set to provide 7% of the country’s electricity), as well as creating thousands of jobs in their construction and operation. In fact, Hinkley Point C will be the largest building site in Europe.

But these gigantic power stations (and the associated large investments and lengthy construction time) might not be the only nuclear power sources on the national grid in the foreseeable future.

Although gradual steps are continually being made in fusion reactor development, it’s the future of SMRs (Small Modular Reactors) that many in the nuclear industry are most certain about.

What are Small Modular Reactors?

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) still generate electricity via nuclear fission, but are much more compact than the current generation of power plants. Here are some fast facts and advantages they have over larger nuclear power stations:

  • They generate up to around 300 MWe – almost a tenth of Hinkley Point C’s 3,200 MWe
  • Parts can be built in factories, shipped via air, road or sea, then assembled relatively easily on site
  • Can be safely placed underground
  • Require less human intervention to maintain safely due to passive cooling technology
  • Can benefit from economies of scale to be built more cheaply and upgraded more frequently
  • Can be expanded or moved around if needed, for example to be decommissioned

When will we see SMRs in use here in the UK?

As with traditional nuclear power stations, there isn’t just one design or technology for SMRs. At this stage, the government is reviewing different designs proposed by businesses like Rolls-Royce, who have been making similar reactors used by Royal Navy submarines for decades, and are overdue to make a decision on which to throw their weight behind. It’s hoped the UK could be an innovator in this field, as many other countries are currently investigating the feasibility of SMRs.

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However, there have been recent concerns that distractions like the UK’s exit from the EU and Euratom, as well as the snap general election, are preventing the UK’s SMRs project from getting the attention it needs to progress.

Whatever the future holds for the nuclear industry after the general election and the UK leaving the EU, and whatever the personnel requirements of the businesses that are involved, Millbank will remain committed to providing the best resourcing services available to both clients and candidates.

Click here to view all our current jobs in Nuclear or here to submit your CV to our team.

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