National Nuclear Laboratory


Thursday 11 January 2024

NNL announces £9.35 million investment from the Nuclear Fuel Fund for innovation centre and design of test facility

National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) has received a total of £9.35 million from the Nuclear Fuel Fund from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. This will fund two projects; a new Uranics Innovation Centre for postgraduate research projects; and the development of a concept design of a High Assay Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) deconversion test facility.

The Uranics Innovation Centre is an industrial and academic partnership to support the development of front end fuels capabilities in the UK. This will be achieved through the supervision of a series of post-doctorate and master’s degree research projects with NNL’s partner universities including Bangor University, Lancaster University and the University of Manchester. Research projects will include Light Water Reactor fuel supply, HALEU supply chain, Advanced Modular Reactor fuel fabrication capabilities and enabling UK fuel production capabilities.

Dr Paul Howarth, Chief Executive Officer at the National Nuclear Laboratory, said: “This project will enable post-graduate students to play a critical role in this new era nuclear energy production and further enhances the skills and fuel capabilities of the UK nuclear sector. NNL is well-placed to manage this collaboration, as it is currently supervising 130 PhD students across 24 universities, while 28 NNL staff hold visiting positions at UK universities.”

The second project to receive funding is for the design concept of a HALEU deconversion facility. It is anticipated that there will be high future demand for HALEU, which is key to the successful deployment of advanced nuclear technologies. Some types of advanced reactors, such as High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactors use Coated Particle Fuel (CPF); a kernel of uranium, coated in protective layers. This fuel requires deconverted HALEU as its starting material. Deconversion of uranium is a mature technology, however, there is currently no HALEU deconversion facility in the UK.

Dr Gareth Headdock, Chief Science and Technology Officer at the National Nuclear Laboratory, adds: “We are in the midst an exciting period of nuclear fuel development. Advanced fuels will enable the next generation of nuclear reactors to provide high grade heat to industry – a major contribution to our ability to meet net zero. As the UK’s national laboratory, it is vital that we develop skills and capability to ensure that, as a nation, we can develop and deliver the full fuel cycle.

“These two projects will not only deliver on the UK Government’s immediate requirements for fuel research and development; the insights we gain will provide further opportunities for future projects as the world looks to nuclear power to meet our global development goals for clean energy.”