Public dialogue commences on public views of Modular Nuclear Technologies

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is undertaking a dialogue, co-funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Sciencewise Programme, to further understand public insights and expectations around the potential future siting and deployment of modular nuclear technologies (otherwise known as advanced nuclear technologies) in the UK. BEIS has partnered up with the Welsh Government, National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), the Environment Agency (EA), the Nuclear Innovation and Research Office (NIRO) and Natural Resource Wales (NRW) to ensure that the dialogue informs as many interested parties as possible.

What are Modular Nuclear Technologies and why are they being developed?

In 2019, the UK Government committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This means that by 2050, the amount of greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere must be balanced with the amount of greenhouse gases we remove from the atmosphere.

In the recently published Energy White Paper: Powering our Net Zero Future, the UK Government identified that a range of technologies will be required to support the UK in achieving net zero by 2050. The future energy mix will require nuclear power, including modular nuclear technologies, to contribute to decarbonising the energy system.

The term modular nuclear technologies encompasses a wide range of nuclear reactor technologies, which are generally categorised into one of two groups:

  • Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) – usually based on proven water-cooled reactors similar to current nuclear power station reactors, but on a smaller scale. The UK SMR Consortium, led by Rolls Royce, aims to have an operational small modular reactor design by 2030.
  • Next Generation Reactors (also known as Advanced Modular Reactors or AMRs) – also smaller scale reactors but use a variety of different, novel cooling systems and/or fuels which could offer new functionality (such low carbon hydrogen production or industrial process heat). These are fourth generation reactors and a number of companies are developing reactor designs for potential deployment beyond 2030.

These technologies have a number of potential benefits, including lower capital cost, reduced build time, and lower construction and financial risks. Some designs also have the potential to provide high temperature heat which can be used for a number of applications beyond electricity production, including hydrogen production, district and industrial heating.

Why a public dialogue now?

The Prime Minister recently published his Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which confirmed this government’s commitment to advancing large, small and next-generation nuclear reactors. Our energy supply and our environment affect us all and policy makers in BEIS, and partners, want to involve the public at this early stage of policy development.

Historically nuclear policy in the UK has been focussed on conventional nuclear power plants,  but with the emergence of new technology and the underpinning analysis of the need for nuclear set out in the Energy White Paper, this has broadened to advancing both conventional and modular nuclear reactors. The differences between modular nuclear technologies and conventional gigawatt-scale nuclear power stations set out above (potentially smaller, potential uses ‘beyond the grid’ etc) mean that the Government may want to modify its policy approach.

How will the outputs be used?

The outputs from this dialogue will inform future policy development and engagement with the public. That might include the Government’s approach to the siting and deployment of modular reactors, how Government might focus its R&D investment on new technologies and the approach to ongoing public dialogue and engagements in the future.

How will the dialogue be structured?

The dialogue was originally planned to be face-to-face, but has been moved online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The dialogue will be run online over five weeks from mid-January to February. Participants will be recruited from three locations across the UK: Porthmadog, Scunthorpe and Reading. These locations have been chosen to represent a community within the region of existing or previous nuclear activity, existing industrial activity and one with no prominent nuclear or heavy industrial activity, respectively. The locations selected have no bearing on the future siting of small modular or next generation reactors. Between 24-28 participants will be recruited from each location; this sample will reflect a balanced range of viewpoints and the local demographic as much as possible, based on criteria such as age, gender and ethnicity. Participants that wish to take part in Welsh will be given the opportunity to do so.

The participants will be involved in six dialogue workshops, where they will have the opportunity to hear from specialists on a variety of topics, including the wider energy picture, nuclear and modular nuclear technologies. Participants will also have a chance to participate in Q&A sessions with specialists and share their early perceptions of modular nuclear technologies. Short tasks will be provided for participants to undertake between sessions to explore wider sources of information and reflect on lessons learnt.

The dialogue will be designed by Traverse and independently evaluated by 3KQ. Traverse have previously designed a virtual dialogue on Carbon Capture Usage and Storage for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and a dialogue on Connected and Automated Vehicles for the Department for Transport.

Outputs from the dialogue are expected in Q2 of 2021 and will be published on the Sciencewise website, as well as the BEIS Advanced Nuclear Technologies web page.

Find out more

For more information on Modular Nuclear Technologies visit the BEIS Advanced Nuclear Technologies web page.

For further information on the dialogue, please contact: [email protected].