Andrew Montford deputy director of the Global Warming Policy Forum: Why is the British government stifling nuclear innovation? The government’s announcement last week of a funding package for feasibility studies into a range of modular nuclear reactors went largely unnoticed by the media. However, as a report published this week makes clear, the news actually represents a significant reversal of policy, and one that achieves the remarkable feat of making the UK’s energy future look even bleaker than it does already. George Osborne, for all his faults, showed commendable vision when he launched a government competition to design small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in 2015. SMRs are a new approach to nukes that would involve building large numbers of small reactors rather than a few enormous ones, like the infamous Hinkley Point C. The guts of the power plants could then be built offsite in a factory, where it would be expected that learning curves would be steep, and costs would be reduced as dozens of identical units are produced. Cost projections for SMRs suggest that they might even be able to produce power more cheaply than offshore wind, the greens’ favoured energy source, without a reliance on the wind blowing. Although the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) has already identified a small group of companies who had viable SMR designs and so there was a clear path forward, civil servants decided to open up the competition to all and sundry, and by the second half of 2016 they had managed to increase the field to no fewer than 33 runners. This included a bizarre range of suppliers, many of whom were not even selling SMRs; most were based around technologies that only exist on paper. Few had much engineering credibility, and some were scarcely more than a brass plaque on a door somewhere.
Spectator 12th Sept 2018 read more »