There is growing UK and international interest in using ‘small modular nuclear reactors’ (SMRs) to generate electricity, and the UK Government announced a number of measures to support SMR development in the 2018 Nuclear Sector Deal. Stakeholders suggest that, compared with conventional nuclear reactors, SMRs could offer cost savings to operators and consumers, more flexible energy production and a greater choice of potential sites. This note examines key aspects of SMR technology, their economics and regulation.Jump to full report >>
In 2017, nuclear power generated 21% of UK electricity. Seven of the UK’s nuclear power stations are due to close by around 2030, and six new large stations are planned to help meet future demand. The first of these, Hinkley Point C, is under construction and due to start producing electricity in 2025. Rising costs and construction delays in Europe and the US have raised concerns about new nuclear power continuing to be a source of cost-effective clean energy.
SMRs are made using standardised factory-manufactured parts delivered ready for assembly. SMRs have generated government and industry interest internationally because designers have suggested SMRs may offer lower investment risk, reduced cost and greater compatibility with a flexible electricity network. So far, no commercial SMR has been built worldwide and there is considerable uncertainty around their costs, timescales and challenges. SMR designs based on smaller versions of existing technology are expected to be commercially available for construction within 10 years.
National Grid and government modelling suggest that nuclear power capacity may increase further in the future, and SMRs may comprise some of this new capacity. UK industry is developing different designs, including some supported by the Government’s Advanced Modular Reactors programme and the 2018 Nuclear Sector Deal.
Key points in the POSTnote include:
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
*denotes people who acted as external reviews of the briefing.
Authors: Marie-Laure Hicks; Jack Miller
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.