U.K. Weighs $2.6 Billion Investment in Small Nuclear Reactors

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Britain is said to be weighing investing as much as 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) in a program to build small nuclear reactors.

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The amount the government is considering is about 1.5 billion pounds to 2 billion pounds and hasn’t been finalized yet, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. Small modular reactors have been promoted by the nuclear industry as a way to blend steady atomic generation with intermittent renewable energy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson touched on the role nuclear power will play in Britain’s future energy mix in his annual speech to the Conservative Party on Tuesday. He pledged the U.K. will become a “world leader in low-cost clean power generation.”

“Imagine that future – with high-skilled, green-collar jobs in wind, in solar, in nuclear, in hydrogen and in carbon capture and storage,” Johnson said.

The program comes as Britain’s pipeline of large nuclear projects has shrunk to just one — Electricite de France SA’s Sizewell C. The government says it’s committed to nuclear as a low carbon form of generation but whether any more stations are built hinges on finding a finance model that’s palatable to investors.

Up to now, the government had pledged as much 250 million pounds toward the design process of small nuclear facilities. This acceleration in support would show real political commitment to the technology.

A group of companies, including Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and Laing O’Rourke Plc, is planning to build 16 small nuclear power stations by 2050 on existing nuclear sites. The program will add 40,000 jobs and 250 billion pounds of exports.

A spokesperson for the consortium declined to comment on the government funding.

The government’s investment would go toward getting the first tranche of five stations built. Each unit can generate 440 megawatts and costs 1.8 billion pounds, if all five are built. The projects will need three new factories to be constructed to make the components. The reactor design still needs approval from the nuclear regulator.

“Nuclear power will play a key role in the U.K.’s future energy mix as we transition to a low-carbon economy, including through our investments in small and advanced modular reactors,” a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said.

The industry is awaiting announcement of more government support for large-scale nuclear too. The energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng said this week that government is considering taking an equity stake in future projects like Sizewell C. The 3.6-gigawatt station will cost about 20 billion pounds.

What the U.K. does next on nuclear should become clear when the long-awaited government white paper is published in a few weeks that’ll spell out future plans for the sector.

Read more about the government’s plans for large-scale nuclear here

Government ministries including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which has responsibility for nuclear power, are putting together proposals for the Treasury to consider for the next three years of state spending, as part of a comprehensive spending review, which is due by early December.

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