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Calling for greater Government support for nuclear skills

13 December 2017

According to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Government should review nuclear approval process to cut costs and speed up development.

The Government should implement an independent review of the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process, necessary for the approval of any nuclear reactor in the UK, to ensure that costs are not unnecessarily added and to enable the faster approval of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).

The report, “Nuclear Power: A Future Pathway for the UK”, follows Government announcements last week on its support for the next generation of nuclear technologies. Among the key actions the Institution’s report identifies the need for Government to add nuclear construction skills to the shortage occupation list - which would allow experienced workers from oversees to enter the UK; the need for a new Strategic Siting Assessment to identify new potential nuclear sites beyond 2025, including sites for SMRs and; support for the development of the Modular Construction Park, planned for the River Mersey.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Lead Author of the report, said:

“The delays and escalating costs of the Hinkley Point C project, has provoked a public backlash in recent years against nuclear power. Yet as a reliable and relatively low carbon source of electricity, it makes sense for nuclear to form a greater part of the UK’s future energy mix, reducing our reliance on coal and gas.

“The key challenge is to reduce costs and delays, which is why the Institution is proposing that Government commissions an independent review of the GDA process to ensure that unnecessary costs are not incurred and to make it easier to approve SMRs.

“SMRs present a lower cost option, with comparatively straightforward construction and, potentially, a more attractive investment proposition than conventional larger scale nuclear plants.

“It is also vital that as the UK prepares to leave the European Union that nuclear construction skills are added to the shortage occupation list - which would allow experienced workers from oversees to enter the UK.”

The report makes the following recommendations:

1. The ‘Nuclear Pathway’ should be enabled through commitment to three objectives:
• Replace old nuclear with new nuclear by 2030, and develop a clear target and plan for future baseload capacity from nuclear.
• Have a fleet of affordable SMRs generating by 2040.
• Develop Generation IV and Fusion plants for beyond 2050.

2. Action needs to be taken to remove three ‘road-blocks’:
• Brexatom needs to be addressed urgently, otherwise the entire UK nuclear industry will not be able to function.
• Publish a firm timetable and plan for the delivery of the Geological Disposal Facility.
• Take forward firm plans for plutonium disposition, in particular, seriously consider how the PRISM SMR could be used to deliver a number of the objectives described above.

3. The key facilitating actions are:
• Urgently consider ‘Alternative Funding Options’ for nuclear projects, particularly for Wylfa Newydd and Moorside.
• BEIS to continue the development of the ‘SMR roadmap’ started by DECC.
• Ensure that post-Brexatom arrangements continue the support for the development of the Fusion programme.
• Undertake an independent review of GDA-related design changes, to ensure that costs are not added unnecessarily.
• Support the development of the Modular Construction Park, planned for the River Mersey, to develop modular construction skills and processes.
• Make available Generic Design Assessment slots for SMRs and develop the Office for Nuclear Regulation to have the required skills and capacity to undertake the reviews.
• Ensure that the Nuclear Skills Strategic Plan is effectively implemented, and add nuclear construction skills to the ‘Tier 2 – Shortage Occupations List’.
• Undertake a new Strategic Siting Assessment to identify potential nuclear sites for construction beyond

Click here to read the report

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