Small Modular Reactors

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 20th February 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland 4:30 pm, 20th February 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered small modular reactors.

It is an honour and privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. This debate is so important for my constituency, the nuclear industry, the country and—if we are going to slow down the rate of climate change—our planet. The three parts of the energy trilemma are reducing carbon emissions, securing the supply of power and ensuring affordability. The Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change reports that, if we are to slow down the rise in global temperatures this century, nuclear will feature as a hearty part of the energy mix.

Government have recognised that. It is this Government who are investing in nuclear new build. It is this Government who have begun investing in the technology advances of small modular, advanced modular and nuclear fusion innovation, in partnership with industry. And it is this Government who have ensured, as we leave the European Union, that the necessary non-proliferation nuclear safeguard regimes are in place and that we will be able to operate internationally, under the roof of the Office for Nuclear Regulation, which also has responsibility for safety and security. The industrial strategy and the nuclear sector deal are great policy advances, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to tell us, in his response to the debate, what is being done to promote policy to progress.

More wind farms—on and offshore—and the abundance of solar panels mean that, in addition to much more, intermittent renewable energy, reliable low-carbon nuclear is needed to make the UK energy system secure and affordable. During the long dark hours without any sun, or when the wind is not blowing and the blades do not turn, we can all depend on fission—on the splitting of atoms—to heat water, to create steam, to turn the turbine that generates electricity, which is then transmitted on our national grid, and to provide baseload power and the potential for district heating—24 hours a day and 365 days a year, for up to 60 years.

There is a demonstrable need for clean, low-carbon electricity now and long into the future. The anticipated requirement for electric vehicles alone could reach additional capacity of 18 GW by 2040. And in Copeland we have an indisputable capability. Nowhere else in Europe could there be found such a concentration of knowledge and skills, yet we face an uncertain future. First it was Moorside, and then Wylfa: the headlines have not been positive for new nuclear, despite significant Government efforts and financial incentives.

Economies of scale, based on the size of a reactor, have been, at least until very recently, widely regarded as the most cost-effective method of development, but the “bigger is better” argument may well be contested by small modular reactors. Calder Hall, which began construction in 1953 in my constituency, generated electricity from 1956. It was officially opened by the Queen in 1957 and consisted of four 50 MW Magnox reactors, which transmitted electricity on to the national grid for 47 years, until 2003. Today, we are desperately fighting to get a whopping 3.4 GW power station over the line. Moorside—the proposed new generation III nuclear power station, which is to be built adjacent to the Sellafield site—has been beset by a range of ongoing problems over many years.

Following what happened at Fukushima, the increased cost of engineering means that nuclear is getting more expensive. The return on investment is becoming prohibitively difficult to predict, and the availability of companies capable of constructing large-scale gigawatt-plus reactors is limited. Sadly, there are no large-scale British civil nuclear companies operating today.

Let me be clear: the development of small modular reactors is not in competition with large gigawatt reactors. Small reactors have a complementary role in contributing to the energy mix. Because of the economies of scale that could be achieved by building multiple reactors, having many more small modular reactors could be the key to our energy future.

The Government’s nuclear sector deal aims for a 30% reduction in the cost of new build and advocates the merits of a fleet-build approach. The reduced-cost, repetitive-formula, standardised, modular method of construction has yet to be rolled in the civil nuclear industry, but it has transformed the car and aerospace industries. As we look for ways to secure the necessary resurgence of nuclear power, I ask the Minister whether it is time to do what we have done in those industries in our energy sector.

Small modular reactors of up to 440 MW in size, with a diverse range of technologies, are currently being researched and developed across the UK, thanks, in part, to Government funding. Of course, small nuclear reactors are nothing new; for 50 years, our Royal Navy’s continuous at-sea deterrent has reliably been dependent on a mini light water reactor to keep it powered for years at a time without the need for refuelling—a fact that John Woodcock celebrates well and often in this place.

Rolls-Royce has mastered the art of small-space engineering, and is now one of many companies developing its technology on a slightly larger scale.