Gresham College Lectures

What Is the Role of Nuclear Power in a Net Zero System?

April 25, 2023 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
What Is the Role of Nuclear Power in a Net Zero System?
Show Notes Transcript

The UK’s nuclear power reactors have provided a significant proportion of the UK’s low carbon electricity over their lifetimes. Most will retire in this decade. Advances in technology mean that modern systems can compete with other forms of low carbon energy.

The lecture will discuss the progress made in development of Small Modular Reactors which make these systems promising for future deployment and the additional functionality offered by next generation systems for hydrogen production and heat as well as electricity.

A lecture by Dame Sue Ion recorded on 19 April 2023 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London.

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:

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Ladies and gentlemen, it's a real pleasure for me to be here tonight, um, especially as a, a fellow of the Royal Society because you, you probably all know that, uh, the very first meeting of the Royal Society was held following a meeting here in 1660 when Christopher Renn, um, gave, uh, a Gresham College lecture. So, uh, he's with great pleasure that, uh, I'm, I'm here tonight and, uh, to talk about the, uh, the role of nuclear power in achieving, um, net zero. So, as well as quite a bit on the, uh, the nuclear part of the topic, I'm also going to be concentrating very much on just how big a challenge we have in actually trying to get to, uh, net zero, um, in terms of, uh, our, our carbon related, uh, um, uh, emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions because the, the requirements to simultaneously grow our energy supply dramatically globally, um, and still to decarbonize, it is an absolutely immense challenge for us because, you know, fossil fuels still account for over 80% of, of global energy. 

So that's energy, not electricity. And I'll be differentiating between the two at various, uh, stages, uh, in the lecture. So we need to get on with achieving that massive decarbonization, um, when we're actually constrained by other environmental issues, um, and the availability of, uh, raw materials and the volatility of global politics, which, uh, crop up during the talk. So, we live in a rapidly changing world. We've got unprecedented geopolitics, and we are not in control necessarily of our energy security, our energy price, or the material resources which affect, uh, both of those issues. Um, and that has loomed large in many of our lives, uh, particularly since, uh, the war, um, between Russia, um, and, uh, Ukraine. 

So, climate change has been on our radars for quite some time, um, manifested often, uh, with extreme weather events from floods in Bedfordshire here in, uh, in England through to California fires, uh, which, uh, made a great deal of news. And more recently in the United States, um, heavy snows and, uh, tornadoes, tornadoes being more frequent events in, in the states through to Austrian flood damage, um, of the sort of, of damage that, uh, I saw in my locality in the northwest of England during storm. Desmond in a huge pieces of mountainside washed down, um, devastating villages, two floods in, uh, South Sudan. Uh, they would not necessarily be, be expected. So globally, whether it be in Pakistan or Germany or Italy or elsewhere in the world, we're increasingly seeing extreme weather events. Um, and not always, but sometimes related to, uh, climate change. So why do we really care about whether energy is low carbon or not? Um, because we are warming up the planet. And for many years now, uh, scientists of advisors that, uh, greenhouse gas emissions are one of the causes. And as a first world country, we have an obligation to, uh, set an example. But do we still care about this when we're choosing between heating our homes and, uh, feeding our, our, our children? 

So if we look at, uh, global emissions, uh, you'll see from the slide that, uh, that China and the United States, uh, are by far and away the, uh, larger emitters, uh, closely followed by Russia and, uh, and India. And, uh, we here in the UK in common with a number of other countries, uh, contribute to about 1%, uh, to the overall global emissions. So it doesn't matter that we only, uh, emit 1%. What matters is that we're a first world country. We've benefited hugely from having the fossil fuel resources to bring our society up to the level that it currently is. And we have an obligation now to do our best to try and, uh, mitigate for the future, uh, the damage that, uh, that, that would otherwise cause. So if we look at, uh, worldwide electricity mix, and, um, we look at the role of nuclear power within that, currently nuclear runs it, uh, just under, uh, 10% of the, uh, global world electricity mix. So fossil fuels still account for very much of the majority of, uh, the global electricity supply, renewables in the form of wind. And, uh, solar particularly, even though there's been huge advances in recent years, still contribute a relatively, uh, small part of the global, uh, electricity supply. 

Now, in terms of nuclear efficient around the world, there are 438 plants currently running in, uh, 32 countries. Um, and the global power that they generate is just under 10%. There are quite a number of plants under construction globally, um, and many more, um, planned or at least being, being talked about. And that's particularly. So, um, since the, uh, energy security issues posed by the shortage of gas as a result of the, um, invasion, um, by Russia on, um, Ukraine. So we'll come back to those figures because, uh, we're talking about, uh, only around 10% at the moment. If we actually increase that to about 15%, um, which is, uh, is under discussion in terms of nucleus contribution to low carbon energy, then we'd be talking about, um, uh, at least doubling, uh, the amount of nuclear power plants that, uh, are there globally. 

So if we take a, a slightly more detailed look, uh, United States has by far in away, uh, just under a hundred of the number of, uh, of reactors that are, are running. Um, France too has a, a significant, uh, portion of, of reactors that, uh, uh, just under 60 that, uh, that are running. Uh, we ourselves, um, are, are quite small in the overall scheme of things. And some countries that, uh, don't have any nuclear plants, uh, do benefit, uh, from it. Um, Italy, for instance, gets around 10% of its electricity from, uh, the French, uh, nuclear fleet. And Denmark, uh, actually gets around 10% of its electricity from the, uh, Swedish nuclear power stations. So some countries only have a very small, uh, number. Some only have singleton numbers. Um, others here at the top United States, France, China, Japan, Russia, Korea, India, Canada, Ukraine, um, ourselves at the moment, um, Sweden, Belgium, uh, uh, have the, uh, largest number. Germany, in fact, um, as of this week, uh, hasn't got any nuclear power plants running. 

Um, so in terms of the low carbon contributors to, um, the, uh, electricity supply, we're looking at, uh, nuclear power plants, uh, wind, biomass, uh, solar, um, marine in various forms. I just happened to search shown turbines there. And, um, uh, wind, uh, turbines. Um, biomass actually, um, is not that, uh, clean in terms of, uh, of carbon emissions, uh, as you'll see in a minute. So if we look at the carbon contribution of the major sources of electricity, um, if we take the figures from the international panel on climate change of 2014, then nuclear and, uh, wind have the lowest, uh, grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour generated, uh, with hydro and solar, relatively low biomass has very significantly more at 230 compared with 12 or 11, um, in terms of the grams of CO2 emitted. So without carbon capture and sequestration than biomass, actually, um, is still contributing to the, uh, uh, carbon contribution. 

Gas and coal obviously have very much more at 490 and 820 grams of co2. Uh, more recent estimates have actually been made by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, um, and they're giving slightly better figures for, for nuclear, um, compared with wind and, uh, and hydro. But basically, hydro, nuclear and wind are the, uh, lowest forms of, uh, electricity generation in terms of carbon contribution. Sometimes, uh, people don't realize that, uh, that, uh, nuclear energy, um, has, uh, benefits that are, um, additional to those from a generation of electricity. And, uh, nuclear reactors are responsible for a number of the essential isotopes, um, that are surgeons use to both diagnose and, uh, treat, uh, conditions, uh, such as cancer. Idem one, one is used to treat thyroid cancer, strum 89, bone and prostate cancer. And, uh, not on the slide, but, uh, an up and coming isotope called Actinium 2 25 is also showing great promise for prostate cancer treatment. 

Um, and they're used in PET scan diagnostics and in, uh, bone synography. So, uh, they're needed on a, a daily basis. This is just an, an image showing, um, someone with prostate cancer that's detected by the use of, um, meibum 99, which, uh, uh, um, decays to, uh, technium 99 m to enable the image to, uh, to be seen. Um, and these are, are needed, uh, daily. Um, and so Meibum 99 is needed to be imported for countries that don't have reactors, uh, that generate it, uh, every week. Most of the world's, uh, meibum, um, at the moment comes from places like Australia, who doesn't have any power plants, but has, um, a research reactor that generates, uh, this material. Um, radioisotopes are also used to power some of our most extensive, um, space missions. Um, radioactive power sources have, uh, uh, powered, uh, the, uh, curiosity Mars Rover for 10 years. 

And Voyager, which is NASA's longest lived mission, actually has been up there for, uh, 45 years, um, in space powered by radioactive power source. So that's just an, an extra feature that happens, uh, to come from, uh, nuclear power. Quite a lot of the talk that, uh, that follows now is, um, about the UK's specific position with respect to nuclear energy, and its, uh, its role in the journey towards, uh, net zero. So in terms of our existing power stations here in the uk, we, uh, generate, uh, generated last year and still run at about 15% of the, um, electricity, uh, for the uk. Um, and, uh, what I'd like you to note is the, uh, extensive, uh, reliance that we still have on, uh, gas on a yearly basis here in, in the uk. Um, and that our, our main sources of renewables, wind, and solar and, uh, and hydro are still relatively modest, uh, contributors in spite of the investments that, uh, that have been made. 

So, gas is still a key player and a key pillar of the UK's energy mix, and it's particularly important for, um, electricity generation, as well as its wider use, um, for, for heating our homes and, um, maintaining some of our key industrial processes. And it's likely to remain so well into the future, as you will see from some of the latest slides. But it's beset with geopolitics. Now, way back, uh, we used to have very significant quantities of, um, oil and gas from the North Sea, so we were self-sufficient. Uh, but from the middle of the two thousands, uh, 2000, the decade between 2000, 2010, we'd become net importers of both, um, oil and, uh, and gas. Um, at the moment, we only get about 40% percent from our domestic, uh, fields. We import 31% from the European pipelines. Um, and we import, um, 22% from, um, LNG tankers that come, uh, mainly from the, uh, the Middle East. 

So we have huge demand for gas, and we're, we are net importers, which is why we're, we are very beholden to, uh, geopolitical events that disrupt those supplies. Uh, storage, uh, we're not too good on that either. Um, there's a lot of press associated with, uh, why on earth don't we have better storage for the gas that, that we need? Um, and these are just some of the, uh, the headlines back in 2021, even before the Ukraine war. Uh, but this gives an indication as to why we were, uh, so, uh, vulnerable here in the United Kingdom. We, uh, have much less gas storage capacity than most of the other European nations. Um, you know, Italy, uh, significantly more than than us, um, Germany, not, uh, far behind. And even countries like Austria and the Netherlands with much smaller populations than us have significantly better, uh, gas storage to be available, um, as and when, uh, it's needed. 

I mean, I'm not commenting particularly on it other, other than to state that that's, that's the way it is. Now, uh, I'd recommend to you, um, I'm gonna recommend to you two apps that you might use to, uh, look at where, um, our electricity comes from. It tells you what's generating it at the time. This one is from an open source, um, uh, called electricity, um, com. And if you, you can download it onto your phone as an app or onto your, uh, your pc. And it basically throws up a map of the world and the countries that, uh, supply the data, um, enable the, uh, the app to colour, um, the, uh, the country that, uh, you're interested in. So, green is low-carbon round, black is high carbon. Uh, back in October, um, we were brownish. Germany was slightly browner. Um, and that was due to the fact that we were burning 61% gas at that time, and Germany was burning 30% coal. 

Um, France is mainly green, always because of the amount of nuclear power it has on its grid. Um, and, uh, uh, Norway mainly green because of, uh, hydro Sweden has about 50 50 hydro and, uh, nuclear to keep it pretty much green. Uh, Poland is nearly always black. Uh, well, it's all, yeah, it's always black because, um, its main power source is, uh, is coal. Um, but electricity demand varies widely during 24 hours and particularly during the winter. Um, and, uh, that means that, uh, our ability to keep our lights on and our, our homes warm heavily depends upon us having gas available. Uh, this was, uh, shot taken in, uh, in January this year. Uh, nuclear runs, uh, all the time when the reactors are, are on, as do the biomass sources. They normally only put coal extensively on the grid. When we're really short of, uh, supply wind, as you can see, is, is variable. 

If it's there, it will be taken. Um, if it's a low wind, then we just have to take more gas in the winter. Um, even on a sunny day, there is, uh, is not very much solar, um, even though we have, uh, quite a lot of investment made in, in solar, solar energy. So, I'd like you to, uh, just remember the fact that we are our peak, uh, install capacity. Uh, uh, our, uh, peak, peak drawdown is around about 40 gigawatts, cuz we're going to come onto to why is that important? Uh, because this, this is the maximum amount of nuclear that can be generated. Um, and wind, as I've said, is variable depending on how much there is. Uh, this is just another way to show it and why it's important. Um, on the 29th of November, uh, this is another app that you could get from the National Grid. 

It's called iso Nat Grid. Um, and it gives the, uh, great British Britain generation mix. On the 29th of November, we were wholly and totally dependent on 66% gas, 13% nuclear, um, 3% wind. It wasn't a very windy day yet. On the 10th of January, it was a very windy day. So in 51% wind, again, 13% nuclear, um, and only 12%, uh, gas. But it means the gas stations have got to be there and available to come on quickly in order to, uh, make sure that we, uh, we don't lose, uh, supply. So it's, it's hard for, um, our planners, um, and our, um, grid to, uh, run, um, with a huge amount of, uh, of wind on the, on the grid, and to also maintain the gas stations available to run. And in some cases, keep the coal stations on hot standby four times of, uh, of low gas, even in the summer. It's not always, um, possible to rely on a lot of wind and a lot of solar. August last year happened not to be all that windy, um, and not all that sunny in the overall scheme of things. So we were still heavily dependent on gas, which it wouldn't necessarily be expected. 

But if we go back to energy and not just electricity, electricity is really embedded in this part of the torque in the energy supply. If we are decarbonizing, then we are going to decarbonize transport and decarbonize our residential homes, um, heavily dependent upon, uh, oil, uh, federal and products heavily dependent upon gas, um, as is, uh, our, our business. So if we are going to move to electricity for cars and heat pumps, uh, for, for homes, then we are going to double at least the demand on the grid. So that 40 gigawatts in install capacity has got to be, um, up towards eight gigawatts in install capacity to maintain the, uh, power that, uh, that we actually need. So it's going to be a big ask and a big challenge to, uh, to get there. Now, cl committee on climate change in many of its reports has indicated that we, we ought to be able to do it with the technology that is available, um, whether that be wind, solar, uh, nuclear biomass with, uh, carbon capture and sequestration. 

Um, but it, it, it relies on a concerted effort and action by all, because this is the power bit at the moment, the 40 gigawatts, and you're going to try and decarbonize a chunk of industry are homes and our transport sector. So it is a massive ask to try and do that. And is it really possible? Or will the lights go out, um, as we try, um, because there's huge engineering challenges, um, in order to get us to where we need to be. Now, back in 2010, the Royal Academy of Engineering, uh, put together a report called Generating the Future. Um, and it was to try and, uh, see what we needed to do at the time to get a 80% reduction in our carbon, um, emissions, which is, is where we were targeting at the time. And so it, uh, suspended, uh, judgment in terms of cost. 

Uh, he just said, assume that the money will be available to do it. What is it physically possible to build, to enable us to hit that target? And at the time, uh, it, uh, uh, it did the analysis and engage with industry to do it. It was felt that we could build many more large onshore tech turbines. We would need to build the equivalent of 38 London arrays, which are the big wind farms in the, in the big wind farm in the Thames Gateway. We'd need a lot more in the way of solar vols. We'd need wave machines that were a bit like PMI wave machines. We'd need tidal stream, uh, in terms of turbines. We'd need a barrage, many more hydro schemes, and we would still need, um, either nuclear or fossil with carbon capture and sequestration large plants. And we would need to reduce demand in order to meet that. So it was a huge engineering and industrial challenge. 

Oops, bit slow. There we are. Um, so how, how have we done this column was the, indicated the amount that we thought it was possible to, to build. Um, this column, which is a, a bit lower, uh, quite a bit lower for some of the technologies, uh, is what the average amount actually produces. Um, and this says what we've built so far. So we were aiming to build the best part of, um, of, of 60 plus gigawatts of wind technology. And in fact, we've only got on the grid as we speak today around 25. So in the intervening years, we, we, we are only crawling our way to what is required in terms of renewable technology, and we haven't built any nuclear power stations or fossil plants with carbon capture and sequestration. So we're a long way short of what we actually need to, uh, to build. 

National Grid more recently has started to do some analysis of, you know, how can we start to look at how we'll get there? And they've done some analysis that they called it a day in the life of 2035. And this particular, um, diagram from, from their publication is about a day in the winter in 2035. And it will show you that they're assuming that we will still have eight to 10 gigawatts of, of nuclear, which is by no means, uh, certain, which I'll come onto in a minute. We will have carbon capture and sequestration on fossil plants, which we haven't got, and we will, we will have built by 2035, um, over 80 gigawatts worth of, uh, wind power. And we've currently only got 25. So it is a huge ask. But the other thing to note from this is the amount of actual, um, uh, energy that an electricity you get from your quite modest eight to 10 gigawatts of nuclear, you are actually getting 220 gigawatt hours of, uh, of energy. 

And, uh, in terms of your offshore wind, in spite of the large amount that you have built, you're only getting roughly the same amount as you would with the, uh, the nuclear station. And you will also see that grid are assuming we will be able to import via interconnectors, uh, 400, uh, gigawatt hours, uh, which is by, by by no means, uh, certain, because nations that are short of powerful, the domestic supply have a horrible habit of making sure their, their own, um, population is properly served rather than, uh, fulfilling contracts that may or may not be, uh, in place. So it's assuming, um, that if there's low renewable outputs, if there's not much wind and there's not much solar, then we're gonna rely heavily on carbon capture, um, and storage. Um, which again, uh, we have done very little to, uh, to invest in as well as some base load nuclear power. 

So it's a huge, huge challenge that we're trying to, uh, to, to meet. So government, uh, various governments from the, uh, first decade of this, uh, century have indicated that they are in, in favour of allowing new, new nuclear power stations to be built in the uk, but they haven't necessarily followed that through with policy, um, or, or action. We've had the 10 point plan for the green industrial rev revolution, which was emphasizing much more on renewable technologies, uh, like wind and solar, but also mentioning, uh, that new nuclear was important in the, uh, days of, uh, Boris Johnson. We subsequently had, as well as the 10 point plan and energy white paper, and a British energy security strategy, um, last year, which reemphasized the importance of nuclear energy in the UK's energy security landscape. So, to be secure with our energy, nuclear was deemed to be necessary, and they required 24 gigawatts of generating capacity, uh, by 2050 in order to help us get to where we need to be with, with net zero. 

The expectation was also that the cost of nuclear energy would be significantly reduced from what it, uh, what it is today, and that we would do that, um, with more novel designs and, uh, a different sort of technology. So, nuclear energy as far as the, uh, the government of the day in the UK is concerned, they would like it to continue to be, um, a major contribute, uh, to the UK's low carbon electricity. But, but how long is that gonna be for? Because most of our existing stations will be gone this decade. They will have retired. Um, Hesham and Hartley Pool were due to retire in 2024. They've just been given two, um, life extensions each, uh, but all of the, um, what's called advanced gas cold reactors, which are the mainstay of, uh, our nuclear power in the uk and have been for many decades. 

Uh, they will all retire by, um, 20, uh, the late 2020s, and only size will be of the existing nuclear reactors will, uh, will exist. It's kind of a bit unfortunate with hindsight that we chose this type of technology back in the sixties and seventies. They were the mainstay of our nuclear power because they have shorter lives than, uh, the global standard, which is, uh, a water cooled reactor, uh, like the one at, uh, at Sizewell be. Uh, these were developed by the Americans and then exported globally. Um, and, uh, most of the, uh, the rest of the world runs on, uh, on water called, uh, reactors. Um, we didn't, and, uh, uh, therefore, we now need to build some new ones, uh, in order to, uh, maintain our supply of nuclear energy. So, originally, um, we had ambitions for new build, uh, e df, uh, the company which supplies, uh, quite a bit of electricity in the UK French company. 

Um, we're going to deploy French technology, um, at Hinckley point in Somerset and, uh, at Sewell Sea in Suffolk, uh, Westinghouse, the American company was going to deploy their latest designs at Mo side in Cambria. And, uh, Hitachi were going to, uh, supply, uh, their designs at Wiler on Sea. Uh, these two projects, uh, fell by the wayside, partly as a result of, uh, uh, government interactions and, uh, and cost, uh, concerns. So the only one that is currently underway at the moment is the, uh, epr the, uh, edf, uh, uh, built technology at, uh, at Hinckley point. 

But what was the rest of the world doing? Well, even before the Ukraine, the United States and France, United States had begun a major push for new nuclear power stations to be built, um, in, uh, their respective countries and, uh, for the technology to be built, um, to be developed in America and, uh, and in France. So they've made very, uh, serious policy interventions, whether they be very large grants and loans to let get companies underway, or, uh, whether it's just a commitment to build more. This is, uh, president Macro in front of, uh, his, uh, his workforce outlining plans to have, uh, sorted out, uh, another six or eight, uh, large reactors, um, on the French grid, um, and to start the journey before 2030. So after the, um, Russian invasion of, uh, Ukraine, um, there's been very significant, uh, additional steps taken elsewhere, um, in countries that already have nuclear power plant by extending the lies or ordering new ones or new countries that didn't have power plants to, uh, to start with. 

So, EDF is teamed with Italian partners on small modular reactor developments. This reactor, which I, I'll say a bit more about, B W R X, 300 or 300 megawatt units developed by ge. Hitachi has been selected for Estonia as their first power plant. Contracts have been signed with Westinghouse for plants in Poland and the Czech Republic. Czech Republic is also looking at, uh, small reactors. Cane Canada has ordered a new, uh, small modular reactor and is working with Poland to deploy there. A pole has given record support for Japanese reactor restarts, um, and citing permits requested, um, for slow back plants. Um, French Ministerial Council has prepared for the new nuclear, uh, build. And past that, um, uh, it's gone through the French equivalent of parliament. And, uh, the, uh, parties in Spain have already indicated that they wish to see nuclear plants go forward, and there's been changes to Swedish law to enable new nuclear power plants to, uh, to be built. 

So why is it such a problem, and why does it seem to be a particular problem here? And it's because of the, the vast amount of cash that you need, um, for, um, the power plants before you actually get the electricity from it. So a huge amount of money, billions, you know, and, uh, that's been quite a challenge here in the uk, particularly for the ones that, uh, that we've chosen. But it's quite often that, well, it's down to the capital that you have to borrow and is financing over the years of build before you get any of the, uh, the power out. Um, and it, it's, that's what dominates the, uh, the cost of the power station. Uh, if you're borrowing at 9%, um, then it costs very significantly more than if you're borrowing at government rates at, uh, 2% Hinckley point. The finance was, uh, borrowed at 9% rather than, uh, than 2%. 

Uh, but it's, it's not just that. It's, it's the reactors themselves. You'll see the reactors, the actual nuclear bit is only about 15% of the total cost, the structure and the shielding, the concrete and the rebar that go around all, all the reactor and everything that it hangs with is by far and away the thing that, uh, that influences the cost of the, uh, the power plant and the time that it takes to, to build. Um, and, and that's why it's proving to be so difficult, especially here because Hinckley point of, uh, of all the reactors that, uh, that could have been chosen. Um, in terms of design, the, uh, EPR is probably, uh, the most complex and difficult to build, um, onsite of the available, uh, proven, uh, designs. It, this is the base mat for the Hinckley Power Station. Before, um, all of the, uh, reinforcement was put around it, to give you some idea of the concrete rebar and the base mat, it's a huge, enormous civil engineering challenge to, uh, to build, uh, to build this particular design of, uh, of plant. This is a, a more recent picture, um, with the, um, shielding all up around. It's a photograph that, uh, that EDF released in terms of the construction site. Um, and, uh, this is the pressure vessel that holds the actual, uh, fuel for the reactor being delivered, um, to site, uh, at the end of February, uh, this year. So, uh, the pressure vessel will be being installed into the shielding that was shown on the, uh, the earlier slide. 

Big challenge, but just to give you an idea, um, some of the other large plants are not quite such a big challenge. Westinghouse's AP one thou 1000 design was, uh, built at the vital site in, in Georgia. These, uh, units four and three on that site. Um, and it, it's, uh, an easier plant to construct because of the modularity that has been in, in, in, uh, the design of the plant. So they're easier to build, but it also gives you an idea of the size of the, uh, the pressure vessel. These are people here, and this is the thing that was on the barge going out to the Hinckley point reactor. Um, so you could fit, uh, you could probably fit four pressure vessels in this room, um, for near nuclear reactors, and each one would be generating over a thousand megawatts of electricity. So the power density in a, a modern reactor, um, is, uh, incredible really in terms of the space that it takes up, given the power that it actually generates. 

So what next for us? Well, rolls Royce have been working significantly for a number of years on, um, their small modular reactor. Now, by small, it's still 450 to 480 megawatts, so it's not very small, uh, but it's smaller than reactors, like Hinckley Point or the vital plants in the United States at over a thousand megawatts. But what they have done is actually design a power station rather than just a, a nuclear reactor. It, it's been relatively easy for a long time now to modularize the, uh, the nuclear reactor itself. It's how do you modularize the rest of all the concrete shielding, um, and all the, the other things that are needed to have a functioning power station. So they've built a, a fully functioning, uh, sorry, they haven't built, they've designed a fully functioning, uh, power station with a great deal of modularization, um, and factory build in, uh, all of the, uh, of the design elements. 

So it means that you can test, um, uh, off offsite, you can build most of your modules, um, offsite, um, and quality control 'em before shipping them for the, uh, final, uh, assembly, um, onsite. Um, which is why it is so attractive. And has it, uh, received a lot of interest for, um, the, uh, the, the design that they've, uh, come forward with it. It means that you'll be able to maintain a, you know, a very high quality product and reduce onsite disruption, cuz the, the bigger units have a great deal of onsite disruption while you are actually, uh, building on onsite. Um, and, you know, the extent of of modularization means that it will transform what would've been a very large, complex infrastructure program into a factory build, commoditized, uh, product. So that's why it has the advantages that it, it has and is likely to lead to a significantly less costly nuclear power plant. 

So in terms of our ambitions for new build, what might we see now? Um, we, we are, we still may see EDF deploying more French EPRs because, uh, the government has several times announced, uh, that, uh, Sizewell will, uh, be a, uh, uh, a copy of the Hinckley point, uh, reactor. Um, Westinghouse may well come back into the UK with, uh, AP 1000, which has, uh, not just experience in the United States, but also in, uh, in China. We may see the General Electric, um, 300 megawatt unit, that's this one here, and all the Rolls Royce small modular reactor, um, our own, uh, UK design. Um, we might, but, um, probably, I don't know, maybe, maybe not. We'll see the other American design, the new scale small modular reactor of the available light water reactors internationally, the new scale designs had very significant support from the American government, and they're moving to build their first one, um, on a site in, in Idaho. So these are, uh, the ad the water reactors that are available today, um, are well proven in terms of design maturity or already built and validated somewhere else globally. And that's important. It's really important that you are not just building a PowerPoint design thing, that you're actually building a unit that has very significant validation and verification and evidence that you can build it safely. It will run safely, and that the regulators will be comfortable with it. 

But what about the future? Uh, what, what might it hold for the longer term? Because there's a lot of talk now about not just small modular reactors, but, uh, advanced modular reactors. Um, and these generally are base, you know, there's not a lot new in the nuclear world in terms of the base technology. Many of these concepts were conceived back in the 1950s and and sixties. It's just that they've never been brought to commercial reality globally, not just, uh, here in the uk. So there are a number that we might see, um, going forward globally. This one in the center is receiving a significant amount of attention. It's called a natrium. Um, and it's, uh, being, going to be built first in the United States by terror power and General Electric. Um, and it's heavily supported by funds from Bill Gates. Um, so big, a lot of private sector funding as well as, uh, US government, uh, funding. 

And it's, uh, a 345 megawatt unit. Um, but it also has a gigawatt scale energy storage system, um, associated with it. So it can store up to 500 megawatts, um, of possible electrical outputs for five to six, uh, hours. So it has big advantage in that not only is it gonna generate electricity, it will also store electricity, which will then be available, um, f uh, at a later point or heat for industry to, uh, use. It's four times more fuel efficient than the current light water reactors. Um, and it uses 80% less, um, what's called nuclear grade concrete. So from a point of view economics, it may well prove to be, um, and economic, uh, possibility. 

These are the two prism and arc. Uh, these are also outta the general electric stable, um, and are based on technology that was, uh, developed back in, uh, the 19, uh, sixties. Again, sodium called, uh, fast re reactors. Um, Westinghouse are looking at a lead cooled fast reactor. Um, and they're also developing, um, uh, a high temperature, what's called a micro reactor. This, these reactors are only two to, uh, five megawatts in size, and they're mainly for off-grid applications, like somewhere, uh, remote, uh, where it's difficult to supply grid power. So these are, um, big companies investing heavily in, uh, non light water reactor systems that we may well see. 

Other systems that, uh, may well come to pass are molten salt reactors. Um, a company called Multex, uh, um, initially in the UK has been working on, uh, a molten, uh, salt, uh, reactor, uh, which has the added advantage of not only producing electricity, but it can also produce, uh, uh, heat, uh, because of the, uh, the molten salt, uh, that is used as coolant, or we have high temperature reactors being developed by X energy. Um, and there was a UK company, urenco, who was, that was developing a small, uh, micro, um, high temperature reactor, but it's now been absorbed into a Canadian company, ultrasafe nuclear operation. Um, it was pity because, uh, it was a very good technology, uh, designed and developed here in the uk, but it's now been absorbed into, um, US and c for them to take forward. Um, and they're engaged in, in Canada and looking at how to take that one forward. 

So they're just, they're different. They're, uh, they have additionality as well as electricity generation. Um, and they're modern versions of designs that were conceived. Many years ago. UK had high temperature reactor back in the 1960s. It was at, uh, it was at Winfrey Endorsers, and it was called Dragon, and it was one of the first reactors of that type, uh, built globally. But the technology was never taken forward seriously at, uh, at the time. And we're only now just seeing, uh, high temperature reactors come back into favour because they will, uh, give heat as well as electricity as part of their, their outputs. So what do we need to do? Well, it's, uh, a big question. 

It's not rocket science either. It's, we need to use fewer bits. Um, we need to take less time. We need to borrow the money cheaply, and we need to build more of the same type so that you get the economies of con cons of scale and the economies of, of repetition. Um, and in many countries, uh, the governments of the day set the energy policy and make it easy for, uh, technology to move forward. And once upon a time, our government set energy policy, and once upon a time we had a central electricity generating, um, uh, grid, the cgb, um, that actually developed many types of, uh, of electricity generation, um, to keep our lights on and invested for the future because energy was too important to national security and security of energy supplies to just leave it to the international marketplace. But that's what we are doing at the moment. We're leaving everything to the international marketplace, um, and hoping that, uh, companies will come along and, uh, develop, uh, the technology in the UK and deploy the technology in the uk. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is moving along and they're all putting orders, um, into the system. And so if we're not careful, we're gonna be at the back of the queue for supply chain. Um, and for companies willing to come and build in the uk. 

I mean, things are moving along a little in that. Uh, we have now got green label backing, um, for new nuclear technology. And this is similar to that, that's been granted in the European Union where the EU was recently, um, given nuclear technology, um, what's called, uh, transition. Uh, it's called a transition technology to allow countries like France, and Poland to invest in nuclear power plant, um, and, uh, to, uh, you know, help, um, the negativity in, in Germany. So countries that want to, can invest in, uh, nuclear energy, but you don't have to. And it's, they've given it to transition status. So here in the uk, um, for consultation, we've got green label backing. Canada already had that, which is why Canada, Canada was able to get private sector investment easily for deployments of the, uh, small modular reactor. The General Electric one in Canada and great British nuclear has been set up, um, and was launched, um, at the, uh, time of the budget on the 15th of March when Jeremy Hunt presented his statements in, um, parliament. 

But does nuclear have a little bit of, uh, additional functionality in terms of can it be coupled with hydrogen to give us a different energy vector that will help? And the advantages that it has over the other renewable technology is the heat output, uh, because it gives stable electricity, um, which allows electrolyzers to, um, uh, generate more efficiently, generate hydrogen more efficiently, um, if there's heat as well. It's the only clean energy source that gives low heat, uh, low carbon heat as a, a primary output. And heat can make the electro electrolysis process, um, if more efficient and less cheaper. And the advanced reactors, which have high grade heat, um, can actually give us thermochemical processes. Um, and that could be the most efficient way to produce hydrogen. But there's none of these deployed, um, as yet globally or here in the uk. And efficiency-wise, they'd be cost compare, comparative and competitive with, um, carbon capture and se sequestration on fossil plant, but without the carbon emissions that you still get from that. So, nuclear power, modern plants, uh, coupled with, uh, potential electrolyzers for hydrogen generation. Uh, so in concept space, you could have, um, uh, high temperature gas, coal reactor, both generating electricity, um, and producing hydrogen and supplying hot gas to industry, um, or steam, hot steam to, uh, to industry. Um, it's, uh, a possibility. Um, and it's being investigated in the United States down, um, by some of the petrochemical companies that, uh, exist there, uh, as a means to, uh, enhance their processes. 

Okay. But there are many, many designs on offer globally. Um, some are just PowerPoint presentations. Uh, some have a, a, a lot, um, in the way of validation and verification. And what we've got to do is be careful that, uh, we actually, uh, have the machines that are validated and, uh, and verified with a lot of work on underpinning them. So what about fusion? I just wanna say a few words about Fusion towards the end here, uh, because it's been, um, underdevelopment for many years with huge, massive potential to be a, a really beneficial clean source of, of energy. And here in the, the uk we've had the, uh, the jet program, uh, European program, uh, uh, at the column laboratory in Oxfordshire for many years. And we are seeing investment now in the next generation, um, step project, um, again, which is, uh, government funded, but we're also seeing private sector companies like First Light Fusion, look at not just Tomac energy, fusion energy, which is, uh, this sort, uh, but projectile and laser-based, uh, fusion energy and making very significant steps forward with these, uh, with these technologies. 

And last December, we saw the news of the major fusion breakthrough at the, um, Lawrence Livermore National Labor Laboratory in the United States, um, the National Ignition Facility, uh, which, uh, gained, uh, energy, um, and, uh, it, it, uh, it proved that, uh, the technology was, uh, was going to, uh, to work. Uh, but there's a huge amount of engineering associated with delivery of that sort of, of technology. And these are shots of the, uh, uh, Lawrence Livermore, uh, laboratory with views into the target chamber. Uh, the beam lines on the top of the, uh, of the reactor vessel, the vessel itself, technicians loading the, uh, the tiny, uh, targets, which are about, as you know, slightly less than the size of of my thumb. So a huge amount of engineering. And, uh, incidentally, they, they used the set of n on one of the, uh, star Trek, uh, um, films. 

Uh, they used it as, uh, the step, uh, the, the, uh, basis for the warp core on the, uh, on the enterprise, but both fusion advanced, uh, fusion systems and, uh, advanced nuclear systems, uh, would do well to, uh, listen to the, uh, words of the, uh, very wise Admiral Admiral Rickover, who was the man who was the basis of the American Submarine Program, which then translated into the very successful reactor build program that the United States had. And he wrote a memo, and in that memo, uh, which you can get the full copy of it, um, on Google if you choose to get that, he basically said, um, an academic reactor or a reactor plant, uh, almost always has the following characteristics. It's simple, it's small, it's cheap, it's light. It can be built very effectively and quickly, and it's very flexible. It's a omnibus reactor and very little developments required, and it'll mostly use off the shelf components, but it's in the study stage, it hasn't been built. 

And on the other hand, a practical reactor can be distinguished by the following characteristics. It's being built now. It's behind schedule. It requires an enormous amount of development on apparently trivial items. Corrosion in particular, is a problem. It's very expensive. It takes a long time to build because of the engineering development programs. It's large, it's heavy, and it's complicated. So the whose message is still hold good to this day? And those making proposals for innovative concepts need to recognize the amount of work that has to go into either an advanced vision system or a, a, a fusion system, because it all has to be underwritten by decades of development and by the regulators who look after our safety, um, and operator internationally. So what's the role for nuclear power in achieving net zero? Will the lights go out without it? Well, I hope that you'll gather from, uh, the talk that I, I've given tonight. 

First of all, achieving net zero is a massive engineering challenge, and we have a huge journey still to go. And nuclear energy can and should play an important part along with the other renewable sources of energy, uh, in helping us to, uh, to get to, to net zero. And if I take, um, the words of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which highlights, uh, nuclear energy's green credentials, it's got the lowest lifecycle carbon, um, intensity of the electricity generating technology today. It's got the lowest lifecycle land use of any electricity generating technology, and it's got the lowest impact ecosystems of any, um, electricity generating technology. So thank you very much for listening and, uh, I'm happy to take questions 

Speaker 2:
Before we go online for any questions. I'd be interested to take any questions from physical members of the audience. Uh, let's go over here. Yep. 

Speaker 3:
That was, uh, very nice. Thank you very much. Um, which do you think is the way to go? Is it gonna be big nuclear actors or small nuclear actors? 

Speaker 1:
Uh, I think we'll actually need a com combination of them both. Um, because I think the, uh, requirements for the amount that we need is such that we, we need both technologies in order to get them, uh, built and to deliver the 24 gigawatts that we need in time. And also for, uh, the enhanced global supply. Um, the small ones give grid greater flexibility, so have benefits that way as well as, uh, with, uh, the other benefits that they have. But I actually think we'll, we'll need to, we'll need to build both. 

Speaker 4:
Is there a problem regarding, um, waste management of nuclear fuel? And also how does it compare in cost-wise with solar energy 

Speaker 1:
In, in terms of, uh, of solar, uh, energy? Um, it, for the, uh, modern systems, uh, when you take all the processes, uh, into accounts that are required, then there'll be comp parable with, um, wind technology, which is actually cheaper than, uh, than solar technology in terms of the, uh, of the waste. Um, it is true that, uh, countries that were early developers in nuclear power have what's called a legacy waste from the early days of nuclear power. But, uh, once fuel is removed from a reactor, then uh, there are, uh, robust processes for containing it and then, uh, storing it prior to, uh, in placement in, uh, geological repository. So countries that didn't have, um, an existing, uh, development program, countries like Sweden, Finland, um, are well along the way to, um, having their fuel packaged and, uh, and geologically, uh, contained. Um, cuz the amount of fuel that you use over the course of a reactor, the volume is not large here in the uk. Um, if we build a, a new fleet of nuclear power stations, we will only add 10% to the volume of the waste that we already need to, uh, manage and, uh, and consign. 

Speaker 2:
Okay. I'm gonna take, uh, at least one question online, a special shout out to Andrew Patterson, who has been particularly active in the q and a, uh, by which I mean he's not only asking questions, he's also giving the answers. So, um, well, 

Speaker 1:
Can I ask you the answers that he's given them, please? 

Speaker 2:
<laugh>? Um, I am going to pick up one of his questions, but before I do that, I wanted to just pick up one by Jill. And, um, she asks, is there enough uranium globally for all the proposed nuclear power plants? Is it available from friendly nations? And how long will it last when we reach peak nuclear? 

Speaker 1:
Um, most of the, uh, uranium that's, uh, available globally, um, is, uh, in Canada and, uh, Australia, which are generally, um, viewed as countries that are, are favourable from a geopolitical standpoint. Kazakhstan also has significant quantities of, uh, of uranium. Um, she's quite right to ask that question because, uh, for, uh, a large expansion of, of nuclear power. Then at some point we will need to re-look at recycling, uh, the uranium that comes out of nuclear reactors. Uh, most of the uranium that sits in a nuclear reactor, um, is, is not used up, um, and can be recycled and reused, uh, particularly in the next generation of reactors, the fast reactors that I was talking about during the course of the, uh, of the lecture. Um, so a resurgence in fast react technology will mean it's self-sustaining, and therefore we won't be dependent upon supplies of, um, nuclear, uh, of, uh, uranium, uh, will, will have hundreds of years of years worth of supply. 

Speaker 2:
And I think, did you have a question, sir? Yeah, yeah. 

Speaker 5:
Thank you for professor for a wonderful historic lecture. Um, I'd like to ask you if you wouldn't mind, to expand a little bit on your comment about why Germany hasn't, um, advanced its nuclear program, apart from the historical, uh, reasons. 

Speaker 1:
Uh, well, the historical reasons still held good. Um, uh, Germany, uh, has, uh, an interesting, uh, coalition from, uh, uh, green party in Germany, which historically has been, um, not, uh, in favour of, of nuclear power. And, uh, post, uh, Fukushima, Germany decided to shut down its, um, entire nuclear fleet. It kept the last three on as a result of, uh, and, and they were perfectly good reactors that could have lasted another 10, 20, 30 years. But politically a decision was taken in Germany to, uh, to close those down. So it's, uh, politics in Germany. Um, German industry would not necessarily be in favour of that, but, uh, the politics in Germany have dictated that, uh, they no longer have operating nuclear plants on, on their soil. 

Speaker 2:
Somebody has asked online whether the, uh, your materials are available online. I should just take this point to emphasize that if you are new to Gresham College, everything is available online, on the website. So the slides, there's a thing called a transcript, which isn't quite a transcript, but it's usually got very useful notes from the speaker. And the, uh, recording is available, uh, usually via YouTube after, uh, a few days. Um, I have a question here from Steven Roderick who's online. He says, what's the key component of solar that gives it a carbon emission greater than that nuclear hydro and wind 

Speaker 1:
That I'm afraid, I don't know, <laugh>, 

Speaker 2:
It was a bit of a puzzle, wasn't it? 

Speaker 1:
It's, yeah, it's just, it's, it's in the, it'll be in the, um, the, the chemical processes, the manufacturing processes and the materials that are used to produce the, uh, the cells. 

Speaker 2:
Yep. It's the through life 

Speaker 1:
And it's the, and it's the through life. It's the life cycle cost. 

Speaker 2:
Yep. And we could probably take one more, uh, a physical question. This gentleman here. Yep. Uh, 

Speaker 6:
Hello? Hello, my name's Graham. I'm a public affairs consultant in the energy space. Uh, the government, as you probably know, is set a target of 25% of electricity coming from nuclear by 2050. With all those stations going offline by 2030, do you think that's a realistic target? Or is 25% too unambitious? Could it be higher? 

Speaker 1:
Uh, it's not 25%, it's actually 24 gigawatts. Um, which may be less than 25% by 20 20 50. Uh, it really depends on what the final grid demand will be. Uh, yeah, it's usually ambitious. Um, but it's why if we go to, uh, a combination of large reactors, um, like the AP 1000 or E E P R, um, and small module reactors, then, uh, it is entirely possible to build that number by 2050. But we'll probably only see, um, between eight and 10 gigawatts by 2035, which was the assumption in the national grids analysis. But we need to start now. We need to get a wiggle on. 

Speaker 2:
So that leads me to perhaps our final question, which is from Adrian Bull online, and he says, um, if we were going to follow the example of another country in terms of how they've developed nuclear, what should our role model be? 

Speaker 1:
Um, well, I, I guess I, I would use the model of the UK all those years ago in the early days of, of nuclear power. Ah, 

Speaker 2:

Speaker 1:
Uk, old uk, yes. Um, where, um, we had a sensible balanced mix of technologies for our, our electricity. I mean, if you were asking me to, uh, to pick, I would say, um, somewhere between 25 and and 30%. Um, and the majority of the rest, um, renewable techno, other renewable technologies, wind, solar, um, with some hopefully, uh, developed carbon capture and sequestration on, on fossil to, uh, make up the balance. So that's a balanced energy policy is what we should have. 

Speaker 2:
So we've run our hour, ladies and gentlemen, and the pressures of online mean that we need to stop. Um, I'm going to give the final word to the great Andrew Patterson, who's been contributing so heavily online. And he says, note I am a longtime fan of Dame Sue. She is top shelf all the way. Well, that's very nice way. I couldn't.