Companies are threatening to walk away from the UK’s long delayed mini-nuclear plant programme despite yesterday’s announcement of new government funding.

Energy minister Richard Harrington announced the government’s long-awaited update on its small modular reactor (SMR) competition at the Nuclear 2017 conference in London yesterday.

Unveiling £44 million of funding to boost research and development into the rebadged “advanced nuclear” initiative, Harrington said that the UK has the “potential” to become a “world leader in developing the next generations of nuclear technologies”.

However Dr Ian Scott, co-founder and chief technology officer of developer Moltex Energy, told Utility Week that many companies had already given up on the UK as a location to develop nuclear technology due to ministerial dithering.

“There is a serious danger because this is being driven by small companies world-wide,” he said. “A lot of overseas companies have almost given up on the UK so there is a lot of catching up to do.”

He also raised questioned why the government was asking companies to retender for the R&D funding, given that they had already submitted information for the SMR competition.

Alan Woods, director of nuclear strategy and business development at Rolls Royce, said at yesterday’s conference that UK developers were not competing on a level playing field with overseas companies.

He said: “We are at a disadvantage against other nations who are being funded by their government let alone just waiting for a policy position. From an industry, sector deal and future of UK nuclear industry perspective it is critical to get some kind of road map from the government very quickly.”

“We cannot to continue to invest without any signals. We’ve been doing this for two years under the current (SMR) competition so we need some indication of next steps.”

“The biggest sensitivity is cost of finance which is why certainty of delivery is fundamentally important.”

Mick Gornall, vice president and managing director of Westinghouse UK & Middle East, said ministers had been “prevaricating for quite a while” over the SMR competition which was launched more than a year and a half ago.

In response to a question on whether the industry would seek opportunities overseas, he said: “We need some kind of signal from government to keep us engaged.”

“If signals don’t come then the industry will start to lose heart.”

Gornall welcomed Harrington’s announced of the expert finance group, which is due to report next spring on private investment into next generation nuclear projects.

Tom Mundy, chief commercial officer of NuScale Power, also backed the group’s establishment.

He said: “The desire and goal to have financial assistance done fairly quickly in the first quarter will be important for moving the programme forward.”

Mundy also welcomed the government’s move to enable regulators to engage with reactor developers.