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Nuclear Energy: Small Modular Reactors

Volume 798: debated on Monday 10 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in identifying a design for small modular nuclear reactors.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and in so doing draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, there are many designs in development around the world for application in a diverse range of markets. The Government are assessing eight advanced modular reactors through the AMR R&D programme. We have received the feasibility studies and will announce any contracts for promising designs in the summer. We are also considering a proposal from the UK SMR consortium to the industrial strategy challenge fund. We will make a decision on this soon.

I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply and pleased that the Government continue to encourage the development of this technology. Can he confirm that the Trawsfynydd site in north Wales is still being considered as a trial site to test a whole range of different designs for generation III and generation IV SMRs?

My Lords, I can confirm to my noble friend that Trawsfynydd remains a potential site; it has been neither ruled in nor ruled out. We believe that small and advanced nuclear reactors have the potential to drive down costs through technology and production innovations.

My Lords, may I add my support to the bid made in favour of Trawsfynydd? The old nuclear power station there is half decommissioned, but the lake is too small for a full new nuclear power station. Given that the Wylfa project is, to say the least, in doubt, will he look positively at the Trawsfynydd option for SMRs in order to keep this technology alive in north-west Wales?

The noble Lord speaks with great experience on this subject. He was involved in the building of Trawsfynydd, more years ago than he probably cares to remember. I note what he says; he is correct to say that the lake is on the small side for a full-scale nuclear reactor, which might make the small modular reactor more appropriate, but as I said, nothing has been ruled in or out.

My Lords, any decision on SMRs should be taken within the context of the best possible carbon-free energy system. Does the Minister share my view that nuclear is competing not with windmills and photovoltaics but with energy storage, because in future the baseload can be provided either by nuclear or by effective storage? The Minister paints a picture of activity within his ministry. Can he guarantee that the same amount of effort will go into developing effective methods of bulk energy storage as is going into nuclear power?

I completely agree with the noble Lord. The advantage of nuclear is that it provides baseload but if, as he says, we make further progress on storage, the variables in renewables would have the same effect. Therefore, we will continue to provide equal priority to advances in technology for storing electricity.

My Lords, in their reports on small modular nuclear reactors, both the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee made the point that the UK’s ability to deliver on the development and implementation of small modular reactors depends on our skills base. We have a significant lack of skills. What are the Government doing to develop those skills in nuclear science?

My Lords, I accept the points that the noble Lord makes and refer him back to the nuclear sector deal, which is a collaboration between the Government and the industry. In that, we accepted that there was a need to develop our skills base, which we will continue to do.

My Lords, it is important to continue the research and development of small modular nuclear reactors. I compliment the Government on that, even though progress is slow. Can the Minister enlighten the House as to whether all the money originally allocated for that project has been taken up? It is not clear. In the meantime, as well as Trawsfynydd, Moorside in Cumbria has disappeared from the planning process. As the Minister rightly says, many existing nuclear reactors providing significant amounts of baseload will inevitably come to a conclusion before too long and we are apparently not in a position to replace them. While I recognise the importance of the point made about storage, it will not be there in time on that scale, capacity and ability.

My Lords, the point I was making about storage was that it needs further research, because there are potentials there. I acknowledge the noble Lord’s expertise from his former constituency interests, and his interest in Moorside. He knows that we were disappointed that Moorside fell through but the site is still there, and it too might be looked at for small modular reactors.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that at Sellafield there is a university technical college for training 14 to 18 year-olds? Last July, 80% of its leavers became apprentices in the industry and 20% went on to study nuclear and STEM courses at university. We are providing the expert staff of the future for not only Sellafield but other sites.

I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding the House of the success of UTCs and, in particular, the UTC in that area.