The UK must make greater efforts in developing the next generation of nuclear reactors if it is to succeed in a market which is to become increasingly competitive Earlier this week, I attended a conference on small modular nuclear reactor technology as research for a feature I am writing for our upcoming issue. Small modular reactors (SMRs) are one of the hot topics in the nuclear sector at the moment, and the UK is active in developing several of them; readers will be able to learn more in the upcoming feature. The first generation of SMRs to be deployed are very likely to be ones which use established technology; in other words, they are scaled down PWR-type modules. A side effect of this is that the UK will never own the full IP. So in order to be sure of gaining the valuable advantage of being a prime mover in the field, we have to look to the next generation of reactors. These are known as Generation IV, and differ from PWRs in many important respects. Most Generation IV technologies operate at high temperatures, using different construction materials and coolants from the current generation of reactors. The UK has experience in developing high-temperature reactors, and although this development did take place some decades ago, with those involved now around retirement age, that experience is still valuable and viable. There are several projects looking at developing this type of reactor in academia and industry in Britain. However, it is not alone in this, and research is also underway in the US, Canada, Russia, and China, among others. And they are all equally determined to access the potential benefits of these technologies A recent report from the UK Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB) identified Generation IV reactors is an important area for research, but there is a danger that because they are unlikely to be the first commercial SMRs they will be neglected in favour of those designs that can be sold and start recouping their development costs more quickly. This would be a mistake. One way to avoid it, and this is also a NIRAB recommendation, would be for the UK to become an active member of the Generation IV Foundation (GIF), a transnational body that supports collaboration in developing these reactors.
The Engineer 1st March 2017 read more »