A global pioneer in all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, the UK wants its collaboration with international partners to continue apace. This was the message of the country's delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency's 60th General Conference held last week in Vienna. The delegation included specialists in nuclear education, research, design, fuel, policy, law and finance.
Greg Hands, minister of state for international trade in the British government, said in a statement for World Nuclear News: "The UK has one of the most dynamic nuclear markets in the world, with significant new build and waste and decommissioning programs. We are open for investment, as emphasised by our recent decision on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, and are extremely well placed to continue taking on work internationally across the nuclear life cycle."
The UK delegation was led by Robin Grimes, who is both chief scientific adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and professor of materials physics at Imperial College London.
Grimes told WNN: "We have a long, 60-year history in nuclear and experience of all facets of the nuclear technologies. We are also one of the first nations to enter into the decommissioning process and because we had such a large reactor build early on, we are perhaps a little further along in that process. So we're useful people to talk to. We are also very clear in our commitments to safety security and safeguards and that is helpful for sharing best practice."
In his statement to the IAEA General Conference on 28 September, Grimes included the scientific importance of research to the UK's endeavours in nuclear. Grimes, who runs the Nuclear Academics Network - which is supported by the Research Councils UK Energy Program - stressed the importance of continued collaboration with his European peers.
"The UK's National Nuclear Laboratory is at the forefront of our nuclear programs, providing strategic technical advice to government and working with Britain's nuclear sector to drive innovative technologies for the clean-up and decommissioning of the UK's nuclear legacy, perform vital post-irradiation examination to enable safe reactor operations, and undertake research with academics who are addressing advanced nuclear technologies.
"The UK Atomic Energy Authority, a world leader in fusion research and development at its Culham site, operates the Joint European Torus (JET) for collective European experiments, contributing to ITER in many specialist areas, and undertaking the UK's fusion science and technology research centred on the MAST Upgrade tokamak. Deploying expertise developed for JET, the Authority also contributes to fission and other markets with facilities and R&D for irradiated materials, remote handling and tritium. Our national laboratories are also supported by a strong university based nuclear academic community.
"We also have the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) who have built up considerable decommissioning expertise and skills as a result of our nuclear legacy and who demonstrate unique solutions to tackling the high hazards at the Sellafield site. The NDA works collaboratively with a number of international counterparts and remains committed to sharing our expertise and advice in this area."
The outcome of the EU Referendum has, however, created uncertainty - both in terms of opportunities for students and the work of UK academics on European nuclear research projects funded by Horizon 2020. This is the biggest EU Research and Innovation program ever with nearly €80 billion ($89 billion) of funding available between 2014 and 2020.
John Roberts, nuclear fellow at The University of Manchester, told WNN: "The government has promised it will pay the funding up until the end of current projects, but nuclear is an international collaborative effort. We don't know what the impact of the UK leaving the European Union on that collaboration will be."
Roberts is involved with a project that increases the mobility of nuclear students and lecturers throughout Europe - the European Nuclear Education Network. This allows students to earn credits in a nuclear discipline outside of their host country to gain the extra qualification of the European Master of Science in Nuclear Engineering.
EU funding for nuclear-related subjects in UK universities is spread across education and research projects which develops partnerships with many EU universities and organisations, Roberts said. "Participation in these projects promotes our visibility within Europe and this continuity ensures we can be influential in determining nuclear research and education priorities."
For example, The University of Manchester helped outline the mission of the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNETP), which was launched in 2007, and Roberts has been chairing SNETP’s Education, Training and Knowledge Management committee for the last two years. "We've been involved since the start and therefore have a voice across major European policy for nuclear education," he said.
Roberts also works closely with the IAEA, which recently established the International Nuclear Management Academy. This promotes nuclear technology management education, a nuclear skill set that was "recognised to be in decline worldwide", he said.
The University of Manchester; the University of Witwatersrand and North-West University in South Africa; Tsinghua University in China; The University of Tokyo; Moscow Engineering Physics Institute; Texas A&M University; The University of Ontario Institute of Technology; and some other universities are all in the process of considering or establishing a Nuclear Technology Management Master's program.
Another IAEA program, Education Capability Assessment and Planning, is applicable to any country and has been trialled by the needs of countries in Africa.
Graduates from the UK's Nuclear Technology Education Consortium Master's course have a "very good employability rate", Roberts said.
"The consortium has been going since 2005 and the universities involved have developed other nuclear courses and recruited more nuclear-specific staff to meet demand for extra graduates. The NTEC courses are taught in a short-modular format and so are useful for both part-time students over three years or full-time study in one year, like a traditional Master's," he said.
The British university sector would like to see the UK "back at the forefront" of nuclear technologies, he said.
"At the recent UK Nuclear Academics Discussion Meeting, we discussed our current nuclear energy situation as like being first in the queue waiting for the shop to open, whereas we should be the shopkeeper waiting to open the shop.
"The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre aims to stimulate activity in the nuclear supply chain, but to have a massive reactor design and build program would be fantastic. Perhaps we could start with the design and operation of a research reactor, which is something we haven't had in the UK for a while."
Fiona Reilly, executive partner at Atlantic SuperConnection LLP and a non-executive director of the UK's Nuclear Industry Association, said the UK "remains at the forefront of the nuclear financing agenda".
Reilly told WNN: "Government support, whether through policy, regulation, law or financial support mechanisms, is key to any new build project moving ahead. The UK government's recognition of nuclear as a low-carbon technology is leading the global market in this area.
"British government policy to support new build nuclear projects is seen as ground-breaking and a number of countries are looking to the UK to learn and to follow its lead. The system of Contracts-for-Difference, together with a government guarantee to protect the debt financiers, is seen as key to developing nuclear and other low-carbon projects.
"In addition, the professional service providers in the UK have been leading the way in supporting new build projects. Legal, financial and advisory professionals have long been seen as world leaders in the project financing of energy and infrastructure projects around the globe. Nuclear is no different with many new build projects looking to the UK for advice."
Mike Waite, director of new plant market development at Westinghouse Electric Company, told WNN he is often asked about the UK's nuclear program.
"I get to visit with a lot of NEPIOs (Nuclear Energy Program Implementing Organizations), and energy ministries in Europe and further afield in the Middle East, Africa and the Far East. In addition to asking about our AP1000 plant construction projects - with the first two reactors currently in the hot functional test phase - they always want to know about the progress of the three nuclear new build projects in the UK," he said.
Those projects involve EDF Energy/Areva's European Pressurized Reactor, Hitachi's Advanced Boiling Water Reactor and Westinghouse's AP1000 designs.
"The UK provides a tremendous reference market for countries considering nuclear new build and benchmarks can be taken from an efficient operating fleet, independent licensing of new nuclear technologies, electricity market reform to support clean energy projects, development of the supply chain for future construction projects, financing and many more. British companies working on nuclear new build will be well placed to take the experience gained on all phases of the UK projects, from planning to commissioning, and use this to help other nations develop their programs."
Claire Harvey, senior commercial and nuclear lawyer at Prospect Law, noted that the UK's energy policy is to expand its "low-carbon contribution".
Harvey told WNN: "Nuclear will play a key role in this and there are plans to build up to 16GWe of nuclear capacity over the coming years. Plans to develop the Hinkley Point reactor are well-advanced, and others are in development and going through the regulatory process. The UK recognises that such nuclear expansion can't take place without the issue of the long-term management of its radioactive waste being adequately addressed, and it is actively seeking a solution to this. In addition, it is also looking at the future use of small modular reactor technology through a £250 million ($325 million) research program sponsored by government."
She added: "The UK has a breadth of experience covering nuclear new build, and waste management and decommissioning of its older facilities. Underpinning this is a robust nuclear regulatory system based on sound laws and regulation derived from the IAEA's Safety Fundamentals and Safety Requirements.
"Specialist legal support is available to newcomer countries from experienced nuclear law firms such as Prospect Law, who can work with local law firms to develop nuclear laws and regulations specific for a particular country. And because the UK does not manufacture reactors we are more independent than most when it comes to providing regulatory and legal advice to newcomer countries."
The UK delegation to the IAEA General Conference also included representatives of Burges Salmon LLP, Lloyds Register Energy and Urenco.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News