The U.K. government has confirmed its selection of the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) for Britain’s £170 million (about $236 million) Advanced Modular Reactor Demonstration Program.
Greg Hands, minister for energy, clean growth, and climate change, delivered the news on December 2 via a speech at the Nuclear Industry Association’s annual conference. “Following evaluation of responses received,” Hands said, “I’m pleased to announce today that we will focus on HTGRs as the technology choice for the program moving forward—with the ambition for this to lead to a demonstration by the early 2030s.”
NNL approved: “As we look to the future and the part we play as a scientific superpower, the U.K.’s unparalleled experience in gas-cooled technologies makes HTGRs the common-sense choice for pursuing advanced nuclear,” said Paul Howarth, chief executive officer at the United Kingdom’s National Nuclear Laboratory. “Following announcements already made on financing for the next stage of the Rolls-Royce SMR program and the proposed Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill to make large-scale plants more achievable, the U.K. is primed once more to be a global leader in nuclear technologies—large, small, and advanced.”
Context: In July, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy issued a “call for evidence,” seeking views on the Nuclear Innovation and Research Office’s (NIRO) Advanced Modular Reactors Technical Assessment, which concluded that the HTGR (including the very-high-temperature gas reactor) had the greatest potential to support the nation’s net-zero pledge. (Other advanced modular reactor technologies reviewed in the assessment included the sodium-cooled fast reactor, supercritical water-cooled reactor, gas-cooled fast reactor, lead-cooled fast reactor, and molten salt reactor.)
Sixty responses to the call were received, with 38 in favor of the government’s selection, 16 opposed, and six neither for nor against.
In its assessment, NIRO provided the following reasons for its choice:
- HTGRs have a high technology readiness level.
- With output temperatures of 700°C–950°C, HTGRs provide for greater versatility in the applications they could potentially support.
- HTGRs can be considered as evolutions of advanced gas reactors (AGRs), a technology in which the United Kingdom has significant experience, and many of the safety characteristics of HTGR design concepts, including passive safety, are broadly proven.
- As with existing nuclear plants in the United Kingdom, HTGRs operate with an open fuel cycle and therefore present no significant issues for security or additional costs associated with closed fuel cycle infrastructure.
- The United Kingdom’s historical experience with Magnox reactors and AGRs could provide an advantage for the development and fleet roll-out of HTGRs in terms of transferable skills and supply chain capability, potential for the development of U.K. intellectual property, and potential for international partnerships, which could further reduce cost and risk to the Advanced Modular Reactor Demonstration Program.