Is British Government Ignoring a Mini Solution to Nuclear Mess?

Two major companies, Toshiba and Hitachi have consecutively decided to abandon their nuclear plant projects in the UK including plans to build a nuclear plant at Moorside in Cumbria and projects at Wylfa in Anglesey.

As reported in Evening Standard (ES), nearly £2.5 billion has been written off over Hitachi’s involvement so these matters do not come cheap. Hiroaki Nakanishi, Hitachi’s chairman said the company will only renew its involvement if the project was off its financial position – required limited capital investments and provided the prospect of adequate profit.

The UK’s nuclear industry is considered a mess, according to journalist Anthony Hilton, successive governments have spent nearly 13 years drafting a nuclear policy and following few years of debate, six nuclear power stations were ultimately selected. It aimed at assigning private contractors to take the risk and construct the plants.

However, the contractors were wary, and with the fall of nuclear energy prices they have become even more alert. Of the six sites, three have been pulled, while two are yet to be finalized. Hinkley Point C in Somerset is the only one which is proceeding but is controversial to say the least.

Chances are that Hinkley will also be shelved, leaving no giant nuclear plants in the UK, but the Government is still dedicated to its policy, and therefore it may take either few years or a general election. On the other hand, the renewable energy prices are coming down rapidly and environmentalists have said that the ongoing construction of new electricity storage systems will eventually bridge the gap of growing demands. ES reported that the British nuclear industry is not there yet.

However, there is another option, though not one which environmentalists favor – ‘small modulator reactors’.

British luxury automobile maker Rolls-Royce has been building and maintaining power plants, driving the nuclear-powered submarines that carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent since the early ‘60s. In the present-day, it is the largest employer of nuclear engineers and scientists, including a range of expertise matched by only a few countries worldwide.

Using this expertise, the company can develop same-sized mini nuclear plants, which could be constructed in a factory, transported easily, and used to produce electricity to light up an average-sized city. Further, these units could provide a practical alternative to huge plants like Hinkley which are almost one-offs and costs to match due to their big size and complexity.

However, the UK government has declined to provide funding, commitment to an industrial policy, and other requirements, and Rolls-Royce as a result is no longer theoretically prepared to invest its own funds and has ceased the project.

Author: Nikhil Kaitwade

With over 8 years of experience in market research and consulting industry, Nikhil has worked on more than 250 research assignments pertaining to chemicals, materials and energy sector. He has worked directly with about 35 reputed companies as lead consultant for plant expansion, product positioning, capacity factor analysis, new market/segment exploration, export market opportunity evaluation and sourcing strategies.