UK sets up £250 million research for small modular nuclear reactors and will likely partner with China

The UK could build one of the world’s first small modular nuclear reactors in the 2020s, after ministers announced support for the technology through a £250 million research package.

A competition to identify the “best value small modular reactor design for the UK” will be launched in the new year, which will “pave the way towards building one of the world’s first small modular reactors in the UK in the 2020s”, the Treasury said.

At the end of 2014, the UK had published a small modular reactor feasability study

The market study concludes that there is a very significant market for SMRs where they fulfil a market need that cannot, in all circumstances, be met by large nuclear plants. The size of the potential SMR market, is calculated to be approximately 65-85GW by 2035 (as shown above), valued at £250-£400bn, if the economics are competitive. In a regional assessment, the study also determines that there could be a UK market for around 7GW of power from SMRs by 2035, based on a demand for low-carbon generation and site availability for small nuclear reactors (less than 300MW). To gain access to larger potential markets for SMRs, it would be
desirable for the UK to partner with another country in order to help access the international market.

A shortlist of six reactor designs technologies was identified as potentially meeting both the technical and financial requirements and within a ten year timeframe:
• ACP100+ – CNNC
• mPower – B and W and Bechtel
• Westinghouse SMR – Westinghouse
• NuScale – Fluor

Discussions with AREVA revealed that they were no longer considering the HTR Antares design and although they are considering an alternative PWR SMR design, they are not planning to proceed with this within the timeframe of this study. As a consequence the AREVA option was discounted from further investigation.

Discussions with U-Battery identified that their design was targeted at a different market and potentially in a longer timescale. It was concluded that ongoing discussions were better suited to a separate NIRAB (Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board) grouping which is considering alternative technologies and a longer timeframe. So this option was also discounted from this study.

UK seems to be partnering with China on nuclear energy

In its SMR feasability study, the UK believes that they would not get a share of the US and Russian market if they partner with China. If the do not partner with China they will not get access to the China market.

The UK just signed a nuclear deal with £40 billion of contracts. China will take a stake of one third, $28bn (£18bn), in the EDF project due to start operating by 2025, and is the first European nuclear plant to be built since Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.

As part of the deal, EDF and the state-owned CGN will also cooperate to license a Chinese-designed reactor and build it at a site near London.

CNNC New Energy Corporation will construct two small ACP100, modular nuclear power reactors at a cost of some RMB5 billion ($787 million). Although it has not been disclosed what specific reactor technology will be used for the Zhangzhou units, CNNC has been developing the ACP100 modular design. This is a 100 to 150 MWe pressurized water reactor designed for electricity, heat or desalination. A plant utilizing the design will have a flexible configuration, with between one and eight modules.

The ACP100 uses heat from the reactor for desalination, industrial purposes and residential heating. So it will a cogenerating system. Two other primary benefits are smaller modules are easier to finance and are the size to directly replace the common smaller coal plants and the 30 month construction time is about half the construction time of larger reactors (even the speedy construction times for reactors in China.

Based on the ACP100 design, in order to enhance its safety, economics and operational flexibility, R&D for next generation SMR, i.e., ACP100+, is being carried out by CNNC. The objective of ACP100+ is to meet the multifunction requirement on nuclear co-generation of heat, electricity, pure water and etc. for in-land and/or coast with more inherent safety features.

ACP100+ is designed as a forced circulating PWR with integrated RCS to eliminate the primary loop pipes and surge line of pressurizer so as to prevent large and medium LOCA accidents.

The atmosphere as the ultimate heat sink is achieved by a compact steel containment fully flooded in coolant. Passive safety systems are utilized to further limit the CDF

China had detailed out the earlier ACP100 modular, multipurpose nuclear reactor based on third generation technology design (24 pages).

ACP100 preliminary design was completed in 2014. It should start construction in 2015 and start operation in 2017. The design is based on the larger ACP (and CNP) units, or AP1000, has passive safety features and will normally be installed underground. Seismic tolerance is 300 Gal. It has 57 fuel assemblies 2.15m tall and integral steam generators (287ºC), so that the whole steam supply system is produced and shipped as a single reactor module. It has passive cooling for decay heat removal.

SOURCES – IAEA, Telegraph UK, Guardian UK,