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Nuclear - including advanced and small modular reactors - can play a positive role in helping to rebuild the post-COVID economy while also helping combat climate change, Urenco and U-Battery Ltd have said in a submission to the UK Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee inquiry on post-pandemic economic growth.

A schematic of a U-Battery plant (Image: U-Battery)

The post-COVID recovery is a unique moment in history that the UK government should use to create the key enabling steps - including a supportive and coherent long-term energy policy - to refocus the economy to achieve net zero by 2050, the companies said. Nuclear and renewables have a key part to play within decarbonisation efforts, with advanced and small modular reactors providing innovative future opportunities, and the government should look to continue to support nuclear energy, which is a proven low-carbon source of reliable energy generation.

New cost-competitive nuclear power must be used to make a significant contribution to meeting the increased demand for low-carbon electricity, the companies say, adding that the government should consider the recommendation made earlier this year by the Nuclear Innovation Research and Advisory Board (Nirab) to plan for nuclear energy to provide at least half of the firm low-carbon electricity not provided by renewables.

"An important part of the post-pandemic recovery and economy will be to have more resilience built into our systems, as well as greater self-sufficiency in critical materials, resources and sectors," the submission says. "Nuclear fuels are a strategically important sector for the UK and can be a major export opportunity." In addition, supporting the use of and development of advanced fuels would enable existing reactors to extend their refuelling cycles, creating efficiencies and improving economics, says.

The contribution made to the UK economy by the nuclear fuel sector is "considerable" both in terms of employment and spending in the supply chain, it says, and calls for the UK to implement "tangible and meaningful" support to preserve the UK’s capabilities in the industry, such as a commitment to a "UK Fuel for UK (new build) reactors" pledge. "The UK Government should look to support the development of infrastructure that would promote the growth of advanced fuels in the UK, given the importance they will play in supporting nuclear energy as we move towards delivering net zero by 2050," it says.

The U-Battery micro modular reactor is being developed by Urenco in collaboration with Jacobs and Kinectrics with support from Cavendish, the UK's National Nuclear Laboratory and Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. Earlier this year it progressed to the second phase of the UK government’s Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Competition, and design and development work on the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor is to begin this year. The announcement of the third phase of the AMR Competition would be the best way for the UK government to support advanced reactor designs, the companies said.

"Advanced and smaller reactors present a great opportunity to help decarbonise large sections of the economy in the future," the companies said. "Due to their modular design, they can deliver benefits to the UK nuclear supply chain and create an export opportunity for the UK, which would in the longer term offer an opportunity for economic growth."

U-Battery also believes its technology can be produced entirely within the UK. "Additionally, small designs like U-Battery will play a major role in the decarbonisation of the UK's heavy industry, which would contribute towards both the net-zero target and benefit economically the regions of the UK where these industries are based."

The BEIS Post-Pandemic Economic Growth inquiry is looking at the options available to the UK government to secure the country's economic recovery from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and covers investment, industrial strategy, jobs, skills, exports and sustainable growth. The over-arching "super inquiry" was launched in June and will include a series of sub-inquiries.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Wednesday, 14 October 2020
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