‘Modular’ nuclear power stations may be the way forward rather than Sizewell C – report

Sizewell A and B - it has been suggested the closed Sizewell A station could be used for a trial mod

Sizewell A and B - it has been suggested the closed Sizewell A station could be used for a trial modular nuclear power plant project. - Credit: Archant

Small “modular” nuclear power stations should in future be considered for the UK instead of large-scale plants such as the proposed Sizewell C, according to a House of Commons committee.

The small plants could be manufactured off-site and assembled on-site, according to the Energy and Climate Change Committee.

It wants the Government to work with industry to better understand the economics of small modular reactors (SMRs) and assess the conditions under which they might become cost effective in the UK.

“SMRs could potentially have a key role to play in delivering low carbon energy at lower up-front capital cost compared to large conventional nuclear reactors,” said the report which makes clear, however, that the commercial viability of SMRs remains unclear.

The committee said deployment of SMRs was likely to be achieved through sharing the costs between the public and private sectors.

It would like to see the Government steering industry towards deploying a “demonstrator” SMR in the UK.

The report said the Government should help to establish the right conditions for investment in SMRs.

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It might take six years to obtain approval from safety watchdogs, the report suggests.

“The Government should support the use of existing nuclear sites for the deployment of SMRs. These sites could potentially host a demonstrator module with minimal additional infrastructure requirements and with the support of a skilled local workforce,” the report said.

Barrie Skelcher, a former senior safety official at Sizewell A, said he believed the site could be suitable for an SMR as a lot of the necessary infrastructure was already in place.

Mr Skelcher, who was head of the Suffolk plant’s health physics department during much of its operating lifetime, said: “The A site still has buildings that could be part of the SMR project such as the workshops and admin buildings, a cooling water intake and outfall. There should also be the old switch gear and connections to the grid and probably much more.”

But Bill Hamilton, spokesman for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which owns Sizewell A, said: “The site will not be available for any other type of use for decades.”

The plant’s most dangerous legacy, its highly radioactive spent fuel rods, have now all been removed and transported to Cumbria for reprocessing.

“We are now entering a care and maintenance phase and it will be decades before any decisions are taken on the future use of the site,” he added.

EDF, which owns Sizewell B and is behind plans for a C station, did not respond to an invitation to comment.

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