The UK will build a high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR) as the centrepiece of its Advanced Modular Reactor Research, Development & Demonstration Programme, energy minister Greg Hands has confirmed. "I'm pleased to announce that we will focus on HTGRs as the technology choice for the programme moving forward," he told the Nuclear2021 conference organised in London by the Nuclear Industry Association yesterday. His statement served as a confirmation of the technology, which had emerged as the UK government's preference after a round of consultations earlier this year.
The goal of the research programme is to "prove the potential" of advanced reactors and have a demonstration unit in operation "by the early 2030s, at the latest", the UK government has previously said. The key focus would be to produce high temperature heat which could be used for hydrogen production, to supply industrial processes and potentially district heating as well as electricity generation.
Several other reactor concepts could have been selected. The emerging category of 'advanced' reactors includes the lead-cooled fast reactor, molten salt reactor, supercritical water-cooled reactor, sodium-cooled fast reactor and very-high-temperature gas reactor in addition to high-temperature gas reactors. However, the HTGR is a natural fit for the UK, which founded its nuclear power sector with two generations of domestically designed gas-cooled reactors: the 26 Magnox reactors deployed in the 1960s and 1970s and the 14 Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) deployed in the 1970s and 1980s.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association said, "This is a welcome signal to industry and investors that the UK is serious about leading the next generation of nuclear development. The UK has unparalleled expertise in gas-cooled reactor technology and can preserve and extend this vital skills base."
Paul Howarth, CEO of the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), called it "a further signal of the resurgence of nuclear." He added, "With the opportunity HTGRs bring to deliver high temperature heat, hydrogen and synthetic fuels, the potential of this technology to help decarbonise our industries and energy grid is significant." He noted that NNL is "actively working on the fuel, graphite and high temperature materials required for HTGRs."
The Advanced Modular Reactor Research, Development & Demonstration Programme counts on GBP170 million (USD224 million) of government funding from a GBP385 million package intended to accelerate development of highly flexible nuclear technologies.