Nuclear research and technology: Breaking the cycle of indecision Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

UK civil nuclear research and development

1.The Committee restates its recommendation from 2011 that a non-departmental public body (NDPB), distinct from the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), be set-up with a co-ordinating and supervising role for nuclear R&D in the UK. Such a body could work in close collaboration with the Nuclear Industry Council (NIC). It is important that any new body takes forward the important recommendations from the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB) as soon as possible. In an industry as long-term as nuclear a new permanent body of this kind will help ensure continuity and consistency for R&D in the UK. It could also help save money by reducing or eliminating duplication of R&D across the different bodies involved. (Paragraph 30)

2.The Government must make clear whether it is still working to its 2013 roadmap and, if so, what body has oversight of it and is responsible for measuring progress against it. An NDPB, as described above, would be ideally placed to measure progress against a roadmap, as recommended by the Committee in its 2011 report. (Paragraph 31)

3.We reiterate the recommendation from our 2011 report that the new NDPB should be given a modest amount of new funding to carry out its activities. It should also have the power to attract money from industry and elsewhere. (Paragraph 32)

4.Despite the additional £250m over five years promised by the Government in 2015 the amount of UK funding for nuclear research, development and innovation is much lower than public funding levels in other leading nuclear nations, including the US, France and Japan. (Paragraph 37)

5.If the Government’s aim is for the UK to be active across the main areas of nuclear R&D and not simply to restrict its interest to being an operator of equipment supplied by others it needs to make significant investments, particularly in those areas (such as Generation IV technologies) that both NIRAB, in its final report, and this Committee, in 2011, have recommended. (Paragraph 37)

UK civil nuclear strategy

6.The development of nuclear energy within the UK cannot be seen in isolation or as an end in itself. It must be seen as part of a wider energy policy which seeks to balance the competing demands of affordability, security of supply, decarbonisation and interoperability with other elements in the electricity generation mix. (Paragraph 44)

7.Civil nuclear is a long term industry where changes in direction in successive Governments’ policies and periods of lack of clarity have had a detrimental effect on the development of the industry, particularly in respect of civil nuclear generation over the last 20 years. The Government has highlighted the importance of the nuclear sector in its industrial strategy green paper and must develop a clear, long term vision and set of goals for civil nuclear strategy. (Paragraph 51)

8.In light of the strongly critical evidence we have received the Government needs to review and refresh the 2013 strategy for nuclear energy, in conjunction with the NIC and take swift and concrete steps towards its further implementation. Furthermore this strategy must be widely publicised and provide both a clear vision and consistency for the long term in conjunction with other existing or planned energy technologies. (Paragraph 52)

9.The Government must decide whether it wishes the UK to be a serious player in developing nuclear generation technology as a designer, manufacturer and operator or alternatively to restrict its interest to being an operator of equipment supplied by others from overseas. While this is not necessarily a binary choice, and a mixture of the two may be possible, being a technology manufacturer would require a step change in the level of Government funding and a long term commitment by the Government to providing underpinning strategic support. We urge the Government to take a clear and firm view. Not making a timely decision could have serious consequences: if the Government fails to act in a timely fashion it could end up wasting money by doing too little, too late or worse too much, too late. The Government must break the cycle of indecision. (Paragraph 57)

10.Once the Government has made this overarching decision, other strategic decisions will flow from this to define a clear set of objectives and timescales with which the nuclear industry can align itself. If the Government were to decide that the UK should be a serious player in nuclear fission, the following would be the minimum steps needed to achieve this:

11.We re-state our 2011 recommendation that the UK should re-join the Generation IV International Forum (GIF). In 2011 the Government told us that the UK’s membership of Euratom was sufficient to be involved in the development of advanced reactor designs. But, as we discuss in Chapter 6, the UK is leaving Euratom and this adds to the importance of the UK re-joining GIF. The UK cannot maintain a world leading position for fission or fusion technologies by acting in isolation. (Paragraph 63)

12.Both the Government and the nuclear industry have high hopes for the newly re-constituted NIC. However, the Committee is disappointed by the baffling hiatus between meetings of the NIC from 2014 to 2017. It must not be allowed to stall as it did in its previous incarnation. The Government now needs to square up to the outstanding decisions relating to nuclear, taking advice from the NIC. (Paragraph 67)

13.We recommend that the membership of the NIC should be representative of the UK nuclear industry and its aspirations for domestic and international development. The NIC should comprise both national and international experts, heads of the major UK organisations and also representation from the supply chain, especially where experience in innovation and international reach is evident. (Paragraph 68)

14.Sector deals in sectors such as aerospace and automotive have proved effective but these industries are significantly larger than the civil nuclear industry. Nevertheless, whilst acknowledging the limitations of the nuclear sector due to its size, we believe it is desirable and sensible to proceed with a sector deal as a national priority. The proposed sector deal on skills and competitiveness for civil nuclear needs to be based on a clear, long term and sustained Government vision for the direction of the sector so that it is known what skills will be needed. (Paragraph 69)

Small Modular Reactors

15.The Government should seek technical advice from NNL as a matter of routine, as well as other industry experts, when considering technical decisions such as the development of SMRs. (Paragraph 96)

16.It is important to recognise that there are several distinct questions that arise from the consideration of SMRs. Perhaps the most important, given that deployment before the late 2020s is unlikely, is what role they could be expected to play alongside the other elements in the UK energy mix at that time. In principle a number of SMRs on a single site could replace a single large reactor. Alternatively SMRs could be more widely distributed with attendant advantages and disadvantages. Both public acceptability and availability of finance, public and private, will be very important. Although a UK role for SMRs would be important, alone it would be unlikely to justify major investment. A joint venture between manufacturers with different and substantial home markets would be welcome. (Paragraph 97)

17.We are disappointed that the Government launched a competition for SMRs and has not kept to its stated timetable. This has had a negative effect on the nuclear sector in the UK and if the Government does not act soon the necessary high level of industrial interest will not be maintained. It is particularly alarming that the results of Phase One of the competition, which does not involve the selection of an SMR design, have yet to be announced by the Government. (Paragraph 98)

18.We did not detect any urgency from the Government to make a decision on the SMR competition. Whilst acknowledging the need for due care, the Government must publish its strategy for SMRs without delay if industrial interest is to be maintained and if commercial opportunities are not to be missed. We have reached a critical moment for the future of the United Kingdom as a serious nuclear power strategically positioned to capture coming opportunities. (Paragraph 99)

19.The Government should also publish its techno-economic assessment of SMRs immediately and make clear whether it believes there is a sound economic case for the UK to make a substantial strategic investment. (Paragraph 100)

National Nuclear Laboratory

20.We do not see any great advantage at present in the merging of the UKAEA and the NNL which are two organisations of a very different character. (Paragraph 117)

21.The NNL is well-placed to be a source of independent advice to the Government and to support and deliver research and development in the UK nuclear sector. To do this properly, it will require dedicated core funding. Whilst acknowledging the current climate of financial stringency, we urge the Government to give early consideration to providing modest funding to the NNL commensurate with that provided to other UK national laboratories and similar bodies. (Paragraph 124)


22.We note the Minister’s reassurances that the Government is devoting significant resources to maintaining and, potentially, even enhancing some of the benefits that the UK currently achieves from membership of Euratom. We echo Lord Hutton’s suggestion that the Government should convene a working group of industry and government representatives to develop a plan to preserve the essential benefits of Euratom. (Paragraph 143)

23.There is a real urgency for Government action on this. The UK’s membership of Euratom must not be allowed to expire without a suitable replacement being in place. Such an eventuality would put the UK at risk of losing its lead in fusion research and in effect throw away decades of research. Furthermore it would put the UK at risk of losing access to the markets and skills it needs to construct new nuclear power plants and may leave existing stations unable to acquire fuel. (Paragraph 144)

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