- SMRs are nuclear reactors capable of producing up to 300MW of electric power
- The EAC said the UK’s first SMR is ‘unlikely’ to generate any capacity until 2035
Government policy on building small modular reactors (SMR) is unlikely to help Britain to hit a critical environmental target, MPs have warned.
The Government hopes to decarbonise the country’s electricity grid by the middle of next decade, partly through the development of ‘mini-nuclear plants’.
However, the Environmental Audit Committee on Monday said the final investment decision on the UK’s first SMR is not expected until 2029, so it is ‘unlikely’ to generate any capacity until 2035.
Target: Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant under construction. The government wants the UK to have up to 24GW of nuclear capacity by 2050
SMRs are factory-made advanced nuclear reactors capable of producing up to 300MW of electric power, much less than a traditional nuclear plant, but they can be transported to sites.
Last year, the government launched a competition allowing companies to pitch their proposed SMR designs for deployment.
Great British Nuclear, the body charged with judging the proposals, considered six firms the most likely to achieve operational SMRs, including EDF, Rolls-Royce and Westinghouse.
But the EAC said it received evidence that the various submissions would lead to ‘a greater amount of waste for storage and reprocessing’.
It wants regulations for SMRs streamlined so they can be approved and rolled out more quickly while ensuring safety standards are not compromised.
The committee additionally called for value-for-money assessments on SMR projects published for scrutiny before any public spending commitments to such schemes are made.
Philip Dunne MP, chairman of the EAC, said: ‘The UK has the opportunity to be a genuine world leader in the manufacture of SMR nuclear capability with great export potential.’
Yet he warned that ‘uncertainty risks knock-on effects for industry confidence…not only for investment decisions relating to the initial build and the construction of factories to build reactor modules, but also for the support and growth of supply chains and skills’.
He added: ‘We simply don’t yet know how much SMRs will contribute to electricity generation in the country, nor how much the roll-out is likely to cost the taxpayer.’
The UK derived approximately 14 per cent of its total electricity from nuclear energy in 2022, compared to almost a quarter in the 1990s, as it increasingly relies on renewable sources, such as solar and wind.
Nuclear power output is predicted to drop further this decade as many plants are retired, although the capacity from Hinkley Point C, currently under construction, is set to offset much of the decline.
Last week, the FT reported that GBN was in talks with Japanese conglomerate Hitachi to acquire land in Wylfa, Anglesey, with the aim of developing the site into a new nuclear power station.
The government wants the UK to have up to 24GW of nuclear capacity by 2050, which could provide around 25 per cent of the UK’s projected electricity demand.