home Nuclear Attitude, Nuclear Technology, U Decision over first mini-nuke sites delayed amid legal action fears

Decision over first mini-nuke sites delayed amid legal action fears

Great British Nuclear (GBN) has delayed a decision on where the first mini-nuclear reactors will be built until after the next election, following concerns that losers of a design contest may otherwise threaten to sue.

The public body, which is tasked with preparing the ground for a ‘nuclear renaissance’, previously said it would select small modular reactor (SMR) designs for public support by the spring and award contracts for development by the summer.

But in last week’s Budget, it emerged the selection has now been pushed back to June at the very earliest.

It means there is almost no chance contracts will be awarded before the next general election, expected to be held either as soon as May or some other time in the second half of this year, officials believe.

The decision to slow the pace of GBN’s design competition was taken amid fears that rushing the process would leave the outcome exposed to legal challenge, via judicial review, the Daily Telegraph understands.

It is also thought more time was requested by some of the bidders. Six companies have been shortlisted, including Rolls-Royce, EDF, GE-Hitachi, Holtec, NuScale and Westinghouse.

The setback is the latest delay to the SMR design competition, which was first announced by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015.

In recent weeks, Tufan Erginbilgiç, chief executive of Rolls, which is seen as the frontrunner, warned that his company could build its first mini-reactor in Europe if ministers failed to speed up decision-making.

Tufan Erginbilgic, chief executive Rolls Royce
Rolls-Royce chief Mr Erginbilgiç warns delays could mean the company builds its first mini-reactor in Europe – F Carter Smith/Bloomberg

Lincoln Hill, director of policy at the Nuclear Industry Association, called for the design competition process to be concluded “as quickly as possible”.

He added: “We do want that to happen before the next election, because otherwise the process will take longer and it is crucial that we don’t lose time.

“Other countries around the world are already moving forward on nuclear and we don’t want the UK to be left behind.

“We know the Government shares that ambition and we would all like to see it carried through, as there is still a lot of work to be done and supply chains to be created.”

It comes after GBN also announced it had agreed terms to buy the nuclear sites Wylfa, on Anglesey, and Oldbury, near the River Severn, for £160m.

The deal is seen as a major step forward for Britain’s nuclear ambitions, with industry insiders regarding Wylfa as the best undeveloped nuclear site in Europe.

Both Wylfa and Oldbury were previously championed by Hitachi-owned Horizon Nuclear Power but the Japanese conglomerate pulled out in 2020.

There were still questions on Friday about whether the Government would acquire Horizon’s intellectual property as part of the land purchase, including valuable environmental and geological surveys carried out. It has not done so yet but GBN remains in talks about the issue.

Nuclear companies that have visited Wylfa believe that having the information could shave as much as 12 months off development timelines if plans for a large nuclear power station there are eventually agreed.

However, along with Oldbury, the site is also a possible location for SMRs. One source said the site is big enough to accommodate a large nuclear power station in addition to as many as four mini-reactors.

Other possible options include Moorside, in Cumbria, which is already in public ownership, EDF’s sites in Heysham and Hartlepool and the Chinese-owned site at Bradwell, Essex.

On Friday, a government spokesman said: “Our world leading SMR competition aims to be the fastest of its kind, helping secure billions in investment for the UK, meaning cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy in the long-term.

“Launching the tender phase is a major milestone and Great British Nuclear aims to announce successful bidders by the end of 2024.”

Source: Yahoo Finance