Professional services firms request funds to boost modular nuclear effort

30 January 2019

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.”


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WEF finds no progress made on greening economy

01 April 2019

The reports of two influential bodies, in the space of a day, have warned that no progress is being made to prevent major climate change. The World Economic Forum has warned that greening of the global energy transition has stagnated over last five years, while the International Energy Agency has confirmed coal use rose again last year.

The position of the Academies of Science from 80 countries, plus a majority of scientific organisations that study climate science, is that humans are causing rapid climate change – often referred to as global warming. Roughly 95% of active climate researchers publishing climate papers endorse the consensus position that since the industrial revolution, the boom in carbon emissions from fossil fuel powered human activity has heavily impacted the planet, with rising levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases trapping heat from the sun causing global temperatures to rise – something which will have catastrophic results in the near future.

Despite the steadfast consensus among the scientific community on the matter, however, there has been little to no meaningful action to avert disaster. In fact, while the signing of the Paris Accord was met with great excitement, since it came into force, global carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise. Today, they sit at their highest levels yet, after a strong economy and extreme weather stoked a surge in energy demand last year.WEF finds no progress made on greening economyAccording to the world’s energy watchdog, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), energy spiked by 2.3% in 2018 – the biggest leap since 2010 – with that demand largely being met with fossil fuels. As a result, global emissions of carbon dioxide hit the record high of 33 billion tonnes in 2018, a rise of 1.7% on 2017’s figures. Commenting on the findings, IEA chief Fatih Birol said the rise in energy demand was “exceptional” and a “surprise for many.”

Birol added, “We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade. Looking at the global economy in 2019, it will be rather a surprise to see the same level of growth as 2018.”

The suggestion from Birol that 2018 is likely to be an anomaly which will not be seen again is strange, considering the added strain which the boom in emissions will place on the environment. To suggest that heightened energy demand was driven by extreme weather – which is increasingly difficult to claim is unrelated to man-made climate change – and then to suggest that such a thing is unlikely to occur any time soon in spite of emissions having increased seems contradictory.

Regardless of this, the bad news was further compounded within hours of the IEA’s release. A report from the World Economic Forum released on the same day concluded that the world's energy systems have not become any greener in the last five years. Despite the agreement of global climate targets, falling green power costs, and mounting public and business concern over the catastrophic impacts runaway climate change could wreak, the WEF’s damning assessment warned that little to no progress has been made on making energy systems more environmentally sustainable since 2014.

Coal is the largest hindrance of change on this front, according to the report. Recent years have seen improvements in energy access and security, but far too many nations remain dependent on coal power for the new energy systems to have made any environmental gains. At the same time, major economies have failed to decrease or even slow the amount of energy they use per unit of GDP, leaving smaller actors who have made changes micturating into a gale. Change on the part of the world’s largest economies is therefore crucial to driving the development of a greener, more efficient global economy, the WEF concluded.

Commenting on the findings, Roberto Bocca, leader of the WEF's future of energy and materials division, said urgent action is now needed to move toward decarbonisation. He added, "We need a future where energy is affordable, sustainable and accessible to all. Solid progress in bringing energy within the reach of more and more people is not enough to mask wider failures, which are already having an impact on our climate and on our societies."

The news comes even as sustainability continues to be talked about as a ‘top agenda item’ at the majority of the world’s largest corporations. While 85% say that it will be more important still in another five years, it is clear that the majority of the world’s most powerful businesses are failing to walk the talk on the matter, regardless of what governments do.