UK government proposes trials of high-temperature gas reactors

The UK government has published a call for evidence setting out its suggested approach for building the first advanced modular reactor (AMR) demonstrator: part of its plan for a zero-carbon economy. The plan proposes exploring high-temperature gas reactors (HTGRs) as the most promising route forward.

The £170m AMR demonstration programme aims to explore the potential for AMRs to play a part in the UK’s energy future; it will be delivered by the early 2030s. it is part of a larger £385m package to accelerate the development of more flexible nuclear technologies.

AMRs – of which there are six main categories – are smaller than typical nuclear reactors and designed such that sections can be fabricated in a factory environment and transported to site, significantly lowering risk and cost. Some AMRs could re-use spent nuclear materials as new fuel.

The government hopes AMRs could, by the 2040s, produce hydrogen and heat for heavy industry in addition to low-carbon electricity for the grid.

More than a third (37 per cent) of UK carbon emissions are derived from heat, with a significant proportion from heavy industrial processes. HTGRs could generate heat between 500 and 950°C: significantly higher than other types of AMR. This would make them a powerful element of cutting emissions from carbon-intensive processes such as cement, paper, glass, and chemical production.

The energy minister Anne Marie Trevelyan commented: “While renewables like wind and solar will become an integral part of where our electricity will come from by 2050, they will always require a stable low-carbon baseload from nuclear. That is why, alongside negotiations with the developers of Sizewell C in Suffolk, we are pressing ahead with harnessing new and exciting advanced nuclear technology.”

“Advanced modular reactors are the next level of modern nuclear technology and have the potential to play a crucial role not only in tackling carbon emissions, but also in powering industry and driving forward Britain’s economic growth.”

The government is calling for expert views from industry and the public on the use of HTGRs for its AMR demonstration.

Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering fellow Dame Sue Ion welcomed the announcement. She said: “This proposal is extremely welcome news and demonstrates the tremendous potential of advanced nuclear power, which could be expanded safely to improve the overall efficiency of our energy system, but also help decarbonise difficult to help heavy industry, to help meet the UK’s net-zero-goal.

This Advanced Modular Reactor demonstration plays to the UK strengths in nuclear fuel and gas cooled reactors in building a technology platform for HTGRs for the UK to exploit and potentially export internationally.”

Earlier this week, it was reported that the government is exploring ways to block China’s state-owned energy company China General Nuclear (CGN) Power Group from all future nuclear power projects. This could have severe ramifications for the Sizewell C project in Suffolk, which France’s state-owned power company EDF is scheduled to build with backing from CGN. CGN is also involved with proposals for a successor to the decommissioned Bradwell nuclear power station in Essex.

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