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Ministers are investing more than £200 million into small nuclear reactor research in the hope of shifting to clean household energy “more quickly”.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng heralded the finance boost – matched by at least £250 million of private sector funding – as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the UK as the Government looks to move away from reliance on fossil fuels amid fears over further possible spikes in gas prices.
Officials said the small modular reactors (SMR), which could be in use by the early 2030s, have the potential to be less expensive to build than traditional nuclear power plants because of their smaller size, allowing them to be more easily transported.
Rolls-Royce SMR, which is receiving the public money, said a domestic small modular reactor sector could help to create about 40,000 jobs.
According to reports, efforts to downscale the risk involved with establishing nuclear energy operations is aimed at attracting domestic backers to the sector as ministers look to squeeze out the reliance on Chinese financing for nuclear power stations.
The announcement comes after three former Tory energy ministers came together to argue that the UN Cop26 climate summit, currently taking place in Glasgow, needs to accept that nuclear power, along with hydrogen, should play a greater role in the global energy mix if net zero targets are to be hit.
A report by Conservative MP Chris Skidmore – backed by former energy secretary Amber Rudd and Claire Perry, who had initially been nominated as Cop26 president before the role was given to Alok Sharma – said the conference in Scotland should “open its eyes to the combined value of nuclear and hydrogen as a complementary strategy alongside renewable energy”.
Ms Rudd, who has co-written the foreword to the report, due to be launched in Glasgow on Tuesday, said: “Key clean sources of power such as nuclear will be instrumental for net zero, and as the report sets out, can potentially open up a new supply of hydrogen for a green revolution.”
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) said the £210 million into SMRs will go towards progressing phase two of its Low-Cost Nuclear project to further develop design of the reactors and see whether they would be suitable for deployment in the UK.
Rolls-Royce SMR estimates that each small modular reactor it hopes to build could be capable of powering one million homes – equivalent to a city the size of Leeds.
Cabinet minister Mr Kwarteng said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the UK to deploy more low carbon energy than ever before and ensure greater energy independence.
“Small modular reactors offer exciting opportunities to cut costs and build more quickly, ensuring we can bring clean electricity to people’s homes and cut our already-dwindling use of volatile fossil fuels even further.
“By harnessing British engineering and ingenuity, we can double down on our plan to deploy more home-grown, affordable clean energy in this country.”
Rolls-Royce chief executive Warren East said: “With the Roll- Royce SMR technology, we have developed a clean energy solution which can deliver cost competitive and scalable net zero power for multiple applications from grid and industrial electricity production to hydrogen and synthetic fuel manufacturing.
“The business could create up to 40,000 jobs, through UK deployment and export enabled growth.”
The £210 million in funding is part of the £385m Advanced Nuclear Fund, which was announced last year in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 10 point plan for a so-called “green industrial revolution”.
It follows on from the Chancellor announcing in the Spending Review that £1.7 billion will be made available to bring at least one large-scale nuclear project to a final investment decision.