Professional services firms request funds to boost modular nuclear effort

30 January 2019 4 min. read
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A consortium of professional services firms is asking for more than £200 million in public funding to develop a new generation of small modular reactors to supply energy to the UK. With Britain’s nuclear power sector having fallen out of favour with the public – while the costs of building plants have also put the private sector off pursuing the energy form – small modular reactors are seen by some as the future of the industry.

The viability of the world’s nuclear power industry has come under increasing pressure in recent years. With the energy source having become less and less popular, states have struggled to garner the support necessary to prop up the controversial power source with public subsidies. A litany of scandals have seemingly wrecked the reputation of the power alternative once seen as heir apparent to the fossil fuel sector, to the extent a growing number of the world’s most advanced economies have dropped nuclear power altogether, particularly in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. 

In Britain, meanwhile, the Government remains unable to secure a site with the right geology to host a £12 billion geological disposal facility for the waste which nuclear power plants would produce. Such a site would be essential to host the most dangerous waste from nuclear power stations, but understandably, it has been impossible to find communities willing to volunteer their land for such a purpose. In 2013, Cumbria county council – the only local authority to have mulled hosting the dump – rejected the idea. The significant cost of producing and maintaining a nuclear power plant also continues to prevent the creation of new locations.

Professional services firms request funds to boost modular nuclear effort

The UK has endured a decade of austerity, and decisions to grant significant public funds to such a divisive industry have come under intense scrutiny. As a result of this, 2018 saw a number of high-profile projects in the sector either put on hold or cancelled. Plans to build a nuclear power station at Moorside in Cumbria were halted in November after Toshiba announced it was winding up its NuGeneration subsidiary, having failed to agree a funding deal with the Government. Similarly Hitachi suspended work on a £13 billion project at Wylfa Newydd in Anglesey, North Wales, because it had failed to agree terms with the Government.

Despite this, the UK Government remains determined to push ahead with its own nuclear project, remaining steadfast in its commitment to usher in a new nuclear age in the country. One avenue now perceived as key to the future of the nuclear programme is the development of small modular reactors (SMRs). These are swiftly becoming a technology of choice among those who favour nuclear power, as its proponents have argued the technology can deliver nuclear power at a lower cost and risk than large reactors, particularly in the construction phase that has dogged many large projects.

Now, a consortium of professional services firms has called on the Government to supply over £200 million in funding to continue the development of SMRs. Led by Rolls-Royce, the group – which includes UK-based multinational project management firm Arup and UK-based multinational construction company Laing O’Rourke – are seeking a sum “in the low hundreds of millions” to support the development of the Rolls-Royce nuclear technology. The Financial Times reported at the end of January 2019 that the consortium said it would match the Government funding, using the funds to advance its nuclear licensing process before attracting private investment.

Commenting on the request, a statement from Rolls-Royce read, “Our consortium is in discussions with UK government officials that we hope could result in a significant joint investment in our power plant design.”