The UK government has published a technical notice to advise how civil nuclear research would be affected if there is a “no deal” Brexit. In short, if the situation occurred, UK organisations would no longer receive future funding for projects under EU programmes such as Euratom, but the UK government has committed to guarantee EU-funded projects that have been agreed prior to leaving the EU.
The government also demonstrated its commitment to civil nuclear research over the summer in the form of the Nuclear Sector Deal. The funding and policy initiative is designed to reduce the cost of nuclear power and thereby secure a diverse energy mix while at the same time keeping costs down for consumers. Co-chair of the Nuclear Industry Council, Lord Hutton, said: “The industry wants nuclear energy to remain competitive against other forms of low-carbon energy – which is why we are committed to working with government to reduce costs across the sector”.
The £200 million deal includes funding from both government and industry to develop technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs are smaller than conventional nuclear power station reactors, which means that much of a nuclear plant can be built in a factory and then transported to the site for construction. They can be similar to existing nuclear power station reactors, which are water cooled, or they can be advanced modular reactors that use new cooling systems or fuels and could reduce costs.
Nuclear power provides a reliable source of low-carbon power, which, it is argued, is important to complement the expansion of renewables that are intermittent by their nature. Wind power can only be produced when it is windy and solar power when the sun shines.
However, the nuclear industry has been plagued by a number of issues, one being high costs at a time when the cost of many renewable generation technologies is falling. In 2016, the government gave the go-ahead for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C. Controversially, developers were guaranteed a high price for electricity as part of the deal, which makes it expensive for end consumers.
As at Q1 2018, nuclear generation accounted for 18% of electricity generation and renewables for 30%. Gas generation made up the highest proportion, at 40% of the generation mix.