Update to the role of nuclear in UK’s transition to a low carbon economy

Published: 19 July 2019

Introduction

The Energy Technologies Institute, working with the Energy System Catapult, released its updated report Options, Choices, Actions in 2018, which included two cost-optimised decarbonisation scenarios for the UK energy system – Clockwork and Patchwork – either of which would meet the UK’s 2050 climate targets.

One of the supporting conclusions in the report was that commercial development and deployment of new nuclear remained a priority as part of the future energy mix, assuming costs could be  contained.

This insight report summarises the learning from the ETI’s Nuclear Cost Drivers (NCD) project which was commissioned through open competitive procurement, delivered by the organisation now known as Lucid-Catalyst, and reported in April 2018.

It also reports the learning from applying the nuclear cost drivers data and associated learning through sensitivity testing in the ESME whole system modelling tool now operated by the Energy System Catapult.

This report is intended to be an update to the first ETI nuclear insight report released in October 2015, entitled ‘Nuclear – the role for nuclear within a low carbon energy system’, and for completeness also summarises developments in the UK nuclear context since 2015.

Key points

  • Contemporary giga-watt scale reactors remain the only designs ready to be deployed in the UK in meaningful numbers between 2025 and 2035.
  • Conservative and pessimistic application of learner effects from a potential UK programmatic approach, using data derived from the ETI NCD project and applied in limited ESME scenario sensitivity testing, indicates that deployment of such reactors continues to be a central part of a UK lowest cost low carbon energy solution.
  • Innovations in the nuclear heat supply system (Gen IV advanced reactors and fusion) are yet to be proven technically and commercially, although some First of a Kind commercial plants could be operating in limited numbers from 2035. Such commercial plants could offer transformational reductions in cost and consequential growth in economic opportunity through deployment in the UK and elsewhere.
  • Successful deployment of these innovations as low carbon energy products is expected to depend on the exploitation of the advantages of simpler nuclear heat supply systems combined
    with delivery through factory based modular manufacture and assembly to reduce costs.
  • Future nuclear plant designs which are developed without a singular focus on cost, and the associated necessities of minimising labour content and application of nuclear grade quality requirements, are unlikely to be commercially successful.
  • It is clear that, to be successful, new nuclear requires a high degree of central coordination and hence makes a stronger contribution in a “Clockwork” scenario than it does in a “Patchwork” world.