A new high-tech nuclear centre set to bring millions of pounds to the Midlands has opened. However, this comes at a time when the UK’s nuclear industry faces criticism.
The Derby Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing and Research Centre will reportedly deliver on the commitments set out in the government’s nuclear sector deal.
The deal seeks to ensure that the UK continues to power British homes through innovation, new technologies and promoting a diverse and skilled workforce in the nuclear sector.
NAMRC expects to generate £5m gross-value added a year over the first four years.
The centre, which is based on the same model as the Sheffield AMRC, could also be crucial to developing technologies in support of the first small modular reactors (SMRs) in the UK.
The pressure on nuclear to deliver is high. Japanese-firms Hitachi and Toshiba recently scrapped major nuclear plant projects; Wylfa Newydd in Wales and Moorside in Cumbria. Hitachi followed Toshiba’s move and halted work on the Welsh site earlier this year due to rising costs.
Additionally, Hinkley C, the nuclear power plant in Somerset is years behind schedule, and billions over budget. Last year nuclear energy supplied 19% of UK electricity, with gas accounting for 39.4% and renewable energy supplying a record 33%, according to Carbon Brief.
Renewable energy sources continue to advance. Earlier this week, the world’s largest offshore windfarm Hornsea One, located 120km off of the Yorkshire coast, supplied its first batch of power to the UK electricity grid. A key benefit of nuclear power is that it provides a steady and reliable energy source that is also low carbon. However, its biggest problem is its price tag. Building and maintaining complicated plants is very costly, as seen in the case of Hinkley C.
Nuclear reactors are too incredibly complex; require extremely high safety precautions and any technical problems can cause long plant shutdowns. Small, modular reactors could offer a lower initial capital investment, greater scalability, and be used in locations unable to accommodate more traditional larger reactors.
The new technology areas being developed at Derby NAMRC will be vital to developing SMR’s in the UK, and will develop new controls, sensors and instrumentation for SMR’s and wider industrial applications, according to the NAMRC.
The UK and the world needs low carbon energy and it needs it now. SMR’s could offer that but it’s unlikely to be anytime soon, as it, alongside any other nuclear technology, needs thorough tests and safety checks. The British government faces a decision, persist with nuclear, focus on renewables or attempt to do both.