Small Modular Reactors

As I am always keen to highlight as Minister for Energy & Climate Change, one of the biggest challenges facing the Government and the energy sector is how we keep the lights on whilst keeping costs down for bill-payers at the same time as continuing to decarbonise the industry.

New nuclear has a huge and exciting role to play in addressing this question, and the case for investment in new nuclear as we transition to a low-carbon economy is proven. Nuclear is the only technology that can be deployed on a sufficiently large scale to provide continuous low-carbon power.

Existing nuclear plants currently meet around 21 per cent of our electricity needs, and if we don’t continue to invest in new nuclear this could drop to only 3 per cent by 2030. Whilst Hinkley Point C, once operational in 2025, will provide 3.2 GW of secure, base-load (i.e. always on) and low carbon electricity, serving some 7 per cent of our electricity needs, there are proposals to deliver additional new nuclear power at Sizewell, Bradwell, Moorside, Wylfa and Oldbury.

But we can and must go further than the traditional model of large nuclear power plants, given the advances that continue to be made in alternative nuclear technologies that can offer exciting opportunities to help us to meet our energy and climate change challenges, as well as develop domestic capability.

So, in November last year, the Government committed to investing at least £250 million in nuclear research and development, including a competition to identify the best value small modular reactor (SMR) design for the UK. Because SMRs are at the early stages of development, the UK is in a strong position to leverage its considerable expertise across the nuclear supply chain to develop them. This will help position the UK as a global leader in innovative nuclear technologies.

SMRs could allow for nuclear energy to be deployed in more remote areas of the country, given that they would be manufactured and assembled at a central factory before being distributed to their new location.

That is why I am pleased that the Chancellor confirmed in his Budget last month that the Government is launching a competition to identify the best value small modular reactor design for the UK with an aim to be building one of the world’s first SMRs in the 2020s.

I am committed to ensuring that the UK remains the global leader in innovative energy solutions, and this Government is looking at all possibilities to fulfil our energy needs. We will continue to think big in order to tackle the energy trilemma so future generations do not have to.