Funding boost for small nuclear reactor plans

The government has given a financial fillip to plans to deploy a dozen mini-nuclear reactors in Hartlepool.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) announced that £3.34 million from its Future Nuclear Enabling Fund (FNEF) has been awarded to X-energy and Cavendish Nuclear, which are working together to develop an Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR).

The money will be used to support studies into the constructability and modularisation of the Xe-100 AMR as well assess domestic manufacturing and supply chain for the new reactor.

The government said the funding is the first awarded by the UK government for post-R&D commercialisation and business development of an AMR technology.

X-energy, which is an AMR developer, has promised to match the DESNZ funding.

Together with Cavendish Nuclear, a subsidiary of engineers Babcock International, the US-headquartered company is proposing to deploy 12 Xe-100 AMRs at Hartlepool by the early 2030s.

Eventually the companies plan to expand this fleet to up to 40 reactors in the UK, which would provide 3,200MW of electricity or 8,000MW of high temperature heat and steam that could be used to support zero-carbon manufacturing and industrial processes.

The Xe-100 uses high-temperature gas-cooled 80MW reactors, which can be scaled up to create ‘four pack’ plants.

The FNEF, which was announced by ex-business and energy secretary of state Kwasi Kwarteng in 2022, is designed to reduce the risks for nuclear projects with mature technologies that are capable of proceeding to Final Investment Decision within the next parliament.

GE Hitachi and Holtec have already been awarded FNEF grants, which will be used to support taking their small modular reactor designs through the Generic Design Assessment regulatory process for vetting new nuclear technologies in the UK.

X-energy and Cavendish Nuclear say they plan to engage with the UK nuclear regulators to evaluate approaches to licensing the Xe-100 AMR design, which is being initially assessed by Canadian and US nuclear regulators.

Andrew Bowie, minister for nuclear & renewables, said: “We are backing innovation in nuclear – from building large-scale plants better to encouraging new advanced technologies – to achieve our ambition for a quarter of our electricity to come from nuclear power by 2050.

“This funding supports the next step in the development of advanced modular reactors and shows our commitment to keeping the UK at the forefront of nuclear technology.”

Hitachi and Holtec have also been shortlisted for a separate government competition to identify next generation SMR technologies for the UK, the results of which are due to be announced later this spring.