Cheaper and smaller alternative is emerging if activity from British entrepreneurs and academics is anything to judge by – the small “modular” nuclear reactor, or SMR. Mini reactors are nothing new – they have been installed in nuclear submarines since the 1950s, and Rolls-Royce produced them for the Royal Navy for decades. An SMR is defined as producing 300MWe – just 10 per cent of what Hinkley Point C should provide. SMRs are defined as reactor systems that are comparatively small, compact and entirely factory built. As a result, SMRs can be placed underground or underwater and moved for decommissioning. They employ “passive” safety systems that do not require human intervention – therefore fewer staff – and use a relatively small amount of nuclear material. There are a number of different SMR designs. Tony Roulstone, course director at Cambridge Nuclear Energy Centre, believes a production line operation could fulfil the promise of continuous improvements, of more efficient designs over the years, and the real prize of being manufactured in the UK. By contrast, the earlier trend for buying renewable systems – wind turbines and solar cells – resulted in a huge import bill with around £3bn alone paid out under David Cameron’s administration to big firms such as Siemens and DONG Energy. And renewables are not always as “green” as its promoters claim. Large wind turbine blades made of fibre-reinforced polymer for example are impossible, or simply too expensive, to recycle, according to German research organisation Fraunhofer IWU. Yet time is not on our side. About half of the UK’s electricity capacity is due to be decommissioned by 2030. This month, a forthright report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) recommended that the UK “should focus on developing Small Modular Reactors, including at Trawsfynydd in Wales, to secure the country’s future nuclear industry post-Brexit”. Trawsfynydd is the site of the UK’s only nuclear power plant not built on the coast. This twin-Magnox station, closed in 1991, is instead on the shores of an artificial lake and is capable of cooling a 700MW reactor.
The Register 24th May 2017 read more »