Britain outlines nuclear strategy; NuScale to layoff 28% of workforce

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The moon is seen above Sizewell Nuclear Power Station in Suffolk, England. (Source: Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

Britain announced its most ambitious strategy for nuclear power expansion since the 1950s in January, a clear signal to investors and developers that the government is ready to back the industry’s growth.

‘Civil Nuclear: Roadmap to 2050’ lays out short-, medium-, and long-term plans to secure investment decisions to deliver 3-7GW capacity every five years from 2030 to 2044 to deploy up to 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050.

The plan implies the construction, on average, of at least one large nuclear power plant a year from next year to the middle of the century.

“The whole of the Western World is learning how to deliver nuclear quickly, predictably, and on a reducing cost curve, and that's the kind of challenging environment that we're in,” says Interim Chair for Great British Nuclear (GBN) Simon Bowen.

“It's a great next step in terms of being able to demonstrate to the market that we’re serious about the program and that we can start to create trust and competence in the industry, and then hopefully attract investment into the industry to make sure these projects are a success.”

Part of the announcement includes studies for a large-scale reactor project and setting timelines and processes before the end of this Parliamentary session, likely in the autumn.

The plan comes almost two years after then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a strategy to triple nuclear capacity by 2050 by building one new reactor a year.

France’s EDF is currently working on Britain’s only nuclear power reactor construction, Hinkley Point C, which lifted the dome into place for its first reactor building in December.

The strategy aims to reach final investment decision (FID) on the next EDF plant, a 3.2-GW, dual EPR reactor Sizewell C, by the end of this Parliamentary session.

Over the next year, the government will also launch consultations on siting and alternative routes to market for new nuclear and complete a GBN-led small nuclear reactor (SMR) technology selection process.

The SMR selection process aims to announce which technologies will be supported to achieve FID by 2029, with six companies selected to take part, including EDF, Holtec, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Rolls Royce, Westinghouse, and NuScale.

The plan will seek to introduce a flexible approach to nuclear siting, while granting nuclear generation projects on ‘critical national priority’ status.

The Roadmap also plans to set out opportunities for flexibility and optimization of regulation, “potentially reducing the timescales for completion of a Generic Design Assessment (GDA) by up to 50%”, engage investors with available financing models, and deliver high assay, low enriched uranium (HALEU) enrichment and deconversion capability through an up to £300 million ($381 million) investment.  

NuScale to lay off 28% of workforce

NuScale, the first new nuclear company to receive a design certificate from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for its 77 MW Power Module SMR, said it will layoff 28% of its full-time employees as part of cost-saving measures.

The workforce reduction of 154 employees will result in approximate annualized savings of $50-60 million, the company said.

The announcement comes just two months after the termination of its Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) with the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS).

The CFPP planned to construct NuScale SMR units that would be operable by 2029 though, after NuScale raised the target price to $89/MWh from a previous estimate of $58 MW/h in January, concerns arose that some at UAMPS would be unwilling to pay.

The company said the layoffs, which would cost around $3 million in severances payments, were part of strategic actions to better position itself commercially, financially, and strategically.

“We continue to invest in our future, including work needed for the near-term deployment of our SMR power plants powered by our 77 MWe NuScale Power Modules,” NuScale President and CEO John Hopkins said.

Canada authorizes near surface disposal facility

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has amended the nuclear research and test establishment operating license held by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) to authorize the construction of a near surface disposal facility (NSDF) at the Chalk River Laboratories site, the CNSC said in a statement.

The commission has concluded that, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, the NSDF Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, provided CNL implements all proposed mitigation and follow-up monitoring measures, it said.

The proposed NSDF has a footprint of approximately 37 hectare and includes an engineered containment mound designed to permanently contain and isolate up to 1 million cubic meters of solid low-level radioactive waste, a wastewater treatment plant, and other support facilities, the Record of Decision said.

The NSDF design, which will include storage for legacy wastes from Chalk River Laboratories, includes an engineered containment mound (ECM), a waste-water treatment plant, support facilities and site infrastructure, it said.

The ECM would have a design life of 550 years, which is appropriate to allow for the radioactive decay of the waste inventory, the Commission said.

By Reuters Events Nuclear