The UK government has pledged £210 million towards the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) through the Low-Cost Nuclear challenge at UK Research and Innovation. This money will be provided to Rolls-Royce SMR and will be matched by £250 million of private investment.
The investment by the government and private firms aims to strengthen energy security in Britain and reduce the country’s dependency on volatile fossil fuels. The money will be used to take forward Phase 2 of the Low-Cost Nuclear project. This involves further developing the design of small modular reactors and taking this design through the regulatory process. Following this, a decision will be made on whether the reactors can be deployed in the UK.
Why is the government investing in nuclear power?
It’s currently thought SMRs provide several advantages over traditional power plants. Firstly, because they’re much smaller in size, SMRs are much less expensive to build. Secondly, the modular nature of the components means that parts can be produced in factories and shipped to site by road. This reduces both construction time and cost in comparison with a traditional power plant.
However, this doesn’t mean that SMRs won’t be effective. Rolls-Royce SMR estimates that each small modular reactor produced could power up to 1 million homes. That’s the equivalent of a city the size of Leeds.
The move is part of a wider commitment to nuclear power. On top of the SMR investment, the UK government will spend up to £1.7 billion in order to bring at least one large-scale nuclear project to a final investment decision. In addition, it has committed £120 million to the Future Nuclear Enabling Fund, which will provide targeted support towards further nuclear projects as part of the Net Zero Strategy.
Speaking about funding for SMRs, Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the UK to deploy more low carbon energy than ever before and ensure greater energy independence.
“Small modular reactors offer exciting opportunities to cut costs and build more quickly, ensuring we can bring clean electricity to people’s homes and cut our already-dwindling use of volatile fossil fuels even further.
“By harnessing British engineering and ingenuity, we can double down on our plan to deploy more home-grown, affordable clean energy in this country.”
How will this impact consumers?
Sadly, although the shift away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy is welcome, it is part of a longer-term strategy and will not provide customers with immediate relief from rising energy bills. At present, you cannot use an energy comparison service to switch tariffs. That’s because even the best energy deals available from the UK’s best energy suppliers cannot beat the current price cap.
However, should the SMRs join the UK’s energy system, then they could ultimately not only lessen the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels, but they could also help lower energy bills in the country. This is because the country’s energy network will become less reliant on imported gas. As an added bonus, they will also improve the UK’s fuel mix, making it greener, cleaner and more affordable in the process.