A thriving nuclear power sector is an essential component of the UK’s path to net zero.
All but one of the UK’s nuclear power plants are scheduled to come offline within the next nine years. This means that nearly a fifth of our country’s electricity supply will disappear, just as demand is forecast to rocket to enable the replacement of fossil fuels for powering our cars and heating our homes.
Current and new nuclear technologies have the potential to provide an affordable, clean and reliable source of power for the UK’s future energy mix.
For NNL, embracing the challenges of net zero means building significant capability across the fuel cycle through initiatives such as our Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme – part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) £505m Energy Innovation Programme; as well as working with the rest of our sector to provide the infrastructure it needs to be able to commercially deploy potentially transformative new nuclear technologies.
Large scale nuclear power will continue to play a significant role and we will continue to support the opportunities this offers, such as in hydrogen generation. But the government’s backing of a new advanced modular approach – the Energy White Paper has called for operational Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) and a demonstrator Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) by the early 2030s – means that the operating space for new nuclear technologies is stronger than ever.
The modular approach offers the opportunity to shift nuclear projects from construction sites to purpose built factories, with standardised components manufactured on a production line before being transported to site and assembled. This makes the infrastructure reliably replicable from one project to the next and much more attractive to invest in.
In other words, quicker to deploy and cheaper to finance.
At NNL, we are recognised for our research and development expertise in reactors, fuel cycles and clean energy applications, and have cultivated this experience with our core customer base. Our work provides the foundations that enable EDF’s reactor fleet to provide electricity to around 17 million homes each year, and that help RollsRoyce and the Ministry of Defence keep the UK’s submarines at sea.
Now, with the urgent challenges ahead, we are using this grounding to assess the skills, capabilities and technologies required for nuclear to take its appropriate place in the nation’s future energy portfolio.
Taking emerging technologies from concept to reality means evolving and building our sovereign capability to support the demonstration of an AMR by the early 2030s. Working with government and the UK nuclear sector, we will establish the pathway to demonstration and ensure NNL delivers the skills and facilities the industry needs to meet this ambition.
We want to support the many facets of nuclear’s potential within the clean energy space, not only in delivering reliable and affordable green electricity but as a critical component for decarbonising other energy vectors.
Whether in progressing avenues for synthetic fuels or green hydrogen production, we will support the development and maturity of these advanced systems and provide the backing needed for the UK industry to be able to commercially deploy new nuclear technologies over the coming decades.
Support for all technologies, large, small and advanced, is critical for the UK and our role in research, development and demonstration is crucial, as is building the right skills base. We will work with government to promote growth and investment in the UK’s national nuclear capabilities to support the country’s net zero goals.
In working with government and our industry partners, we want to continue to build the UK’s global competitive advantage and secure its position as the most attractive place to develop these technologies in Europe, and around the world.
We will work with government to promote growth and investment in the UK’s national nuclear capabilities to support the country’s net zero goals.
An enabler for UK nuclear
NNL is supporting the wider UK nuclear sector to recognise and position itself to deliver the potential benefits of advanced nuclear technologies, including SMRs and AMRs:
- We are part of the UK SMR Consortium, led by Rolls-Royce, developing a UK concept for small modular reactors, putting the UK in prime position for the market in both SMRs and AMRs;
- In 2020, we led a review for government of how the UK’s nuclear R&D sector and domestic supply chain should be developed in order to support the deployment of AMRs;
- We have provided early R&D support to vendors in the first round of the AMR programme, and have continued this in the second phase with our ongoing involvement in Westinghouse and U-Battery’s reactor development projects. This has helped the sector to progress promising technological solutions and develop national capabilities.
Nuclear generated green hydrogen
To enable the deep decarbonisation that is required to meet net zero, it is clear that hydrogen will need to play an ever increasing role. Nuclear generated green hydrogen, alongside other clean energy routes, will enable a plentiful supply to fuel our future economy.
Alongside existing electrolysis methods, NNL is exploring new ways in which the high-grade heat generated by advanced reactors could be used to the same end. These techniques could unlock the decarbonisation of our large scale industry and transport systems by providing immense amounts of green hydrogen at much lower costs.
NNL is creating new cross sector partnerships to accelerate this work, support government decision-making and attract investor interest in nuclear generated hydrogen. This includes mapping out the evolution of potential nuclear hydrogen production technologies and the impact they could have on future energy scenarios.
By measuring the required target cost for hydrogen production against the most likely techniques for deployment, the aim is to find economically competitive solutions that maximise the contribution of nuclear to achieving net zero by 2050
NNL is exploring new ways in which the high-grade heat generated by advanced reactors could be used to the same end. These techniques could unlock the decarbonisation of our large scale industry and transport systems by providing immense amounts of green hydrogen at much lower costs.
NNL’s Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme
“As a communicator and climate activist, I feel as though my values directly align with our cause – and that is an inspiring future to help create.”Meredith Sherock
Meredith Sherock manages communications for NNL’s Advanced Fuel Cycle Programme (AFCP). A geologist by background, Meredith joined us in 2020 from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
“AFCP is a multidisciplinary, collaborative innovation programme that is supporting the UK’s transition to net zero by 2050. Led by NNL in partnership with BEIS, AFCP connects over 100 global organisations with the unified mission of providing affordable, sustainable clean energy options for the UK’s evolving low-carbon landscape.
An advanced fuel cycle encompasses both nuclear fuels and recycling technologies, taking a holistic approach in order to maximise the potential of precious earth materials. We’re not only addressing the nuclear legacy through sustainable fuel cycles, but we’re also working to secure more accessible, equitable clean energy for people worldwide.
The programme therefore overlaps with many areas across NNL – Clean Energy, Environmental Restoration and more – to elevate our existing capability and demonstrate the lab’s leadership in shaping the future of nuclear science in the UK.
As the Communications Manager for AFCP, I help give a voice to the programme. Having been previously external to nuclear, I think the programme is a perfect example of why old perceptions of the sector are misled. AFCP is modern, authentic, and human. It’s future focused, considering the long-term environmental, social and economic impacts of nuclear energy.
Advanced fuel cycles are essential to sustainability – reducing waste, reusing materials, investing in opportunities to support future generations – and the programme reflects on what sustainable living means to us as individuals and to NNL as an organisation.
As a communicator and climate activist, I feel as though my values directly align with our cause – and that is an inspiring future to help create.”