Oral Question: Small Modular Reactors

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John Stevenson: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is important for not just our country but our county. She talks about the private sector. Does she agree that there is a role for the Government, which should make a real commitment to supporting the SMR sector? That may include a financial contribution.

Trudy Harrison: I thank my hon. Friend for that important reminder that we cannot do this without Government support. We have the capability and the demonstrable need. The industry is desperate to be part of the solution, but we must have the Government’s financial policy and industrial support to take this forward.

From light water reactors to heavy water reactors, and molten salt to sodium cooled, the innovation in fission technology is most certainly alive and kicking. Some of our greatest, most innovative companies are now interested in building small reactors in the UK. Moltex, Atkins, NuScale, EDF, DBD, U-Battery Developments, Westinghouse, Sheffield Forgemasters and Rolls-Royce—these companies and hundreds of others involved with their supply chains, such as Goodwin, need our political, financial and industrial support.

Today, there are about 50 civil small modular reactors at various stages of research and development across the world. Fleet build is widely anticipated to bring a swifter return on investment, with lower barriers to entry and standardisation. As politicians, it is surely our job to ensure that policy takes possibility towards probability. Constructing single or incremental small modular reactors on nuclear-licensed sites, where the existing industrial power requirement is currently dependent on fossil fuel, is surely a credible, sensible and more sustainable way to power the UK and beyond.

There is one such location on the outskirts of the Sellafield site in Copeland. Fellside is a combined heat and power plant with a capability of about 170 MW, but it is due to come out of service later this year. It is outwith the nuclear licensed site boundary, but it has the benefit of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary for security, and obviously has a huge adjacent industrial power requirement, which is currently dependent on gas. Will the Minister consider Fellside a suitable, if not perfect, site for a future small modular reactor, and value the huge potential for further advanced manufacturing facilities in Copeland?

This is not just about being the first, although we do have an impressive track record of firsts: the first civil nuclear reactor, the first Magnox reprocessing plant and the first thermal oxide reprocessing plant. In the words of my Prospect union rep:

“With the most experienced workforce in the nuclear industry, West Cumbrians do it best”— and we want to keep doing it.

I hope the Minister will tell me and the other Members in this debate who share my passion for nuclear how his Department will create the right market conditions to enable developers to bring new reactors to market and to create national and international markets. Grasping the opportunity to meet our domestic power requirements and capitalising on the early-adopter benefits of a multi- billion-pound, global export market while tackling the energy trilemma of security, affordability and environmental sustainability will mean that Cumbria continues to be the centre of nuclear excellence.

This is not rocket science—although we do a bit of that at the National Nuclear Laboratory—but a case of multiples: the more we build, the cheaper things get. Many of the UK’s 15 nuclear reactors will come to the end of their long-serving lives by 2030, leaving us perilously vulnerable and dependent on fossil fuels. We must get serious about meeting the world need for affordable and reliable electricity, while slowing down global warming before it is too late.

Thank you, Mr Paisley, for listening most intently. I look forward to a robust debate and to the Minister’s considered response to the points that I have made and that other Members will no doubt make as well.

…later…

John Stevenson: I reiterate my congratulations to my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison on securing the debate and, more importantly, on being a real advocate for Copeland and the nuclear industry. I have played a secondary role to her and have held a couple of nuclear conferences in my constituency. I am grateful to the Minister for attending the one I held last year.

I am disappointed that the original development at Moorside did not go ahead. NuGen did a huge amount of work and it is to be congratulated on that effort. I pay tribute to Tom Samson and his team for the work they did. It is a disappointment that the development did not go ahead. The investment would have helped to transform Cumbria—not just west Cumbria but the whole county—and brought tremendous economic benefits; not only that, but it would have provided 7% of our national energy needs and made a significant contribution to the low-carbon economy.

I believe the Government could and should take a proactive interest in the nuclear industry, including by investing directly in it. None the less, Moorside did not happen, so I look to how Cumbria’s strengths can be used in the future, particularly with regard to the possibilities of SMRs. Cumbria has two unique selling points: tourism and the nuclear industry, which employs a huge number of people. Some 10,000-plus are employed at Sellafield, we have the National Nuclear Laboratory and the Low Level Waste Repository, and there is a highly skilled supply chain. The industry’s impact on the area is significant in terms of employment, apprentices, graduates, research and skills. We must use the opportunities and skills we have to ensure that Cumbria exploits the alternatives that are available in the nuclear industry.

I have talked about the local interest but, as I say, there is also a national interest. We are moving to a low-carbon world. How will we achieve that? Renewables undoubtedly will be a significant element, and I am a big supporter of solar, but nuclear clearly has its place in the energy mix. I have supported large nuclear plants, but clearly we need to get behind the development of SMRs, which may well be the future for our country. They offer greater flexibility, many commercial opportunities and a real chance for the UK to rediscover its nuclear development expertise.

I believe that if we do that, Cumbria will play a central part. As I have already said, we have the skills and the expertise, the research facilities and the land, but probably most importantly, we have a population that supports the nuclear industry. Our people want to get behind the industry, in the interests of Cumbria and our national economy.

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