(Adds release of study on costs)
LONDON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - The British government will provide up to 56 million pounds ($75 million) of funding for research and development in mini-nuclear plants, it said on Thursday.
The funding will be available over the next three years and will be used to assess the potential of designs of advanced and small modular reactors (SMRs) and accelerating their development, the government said in a statement.
SMRs use existing or new nuclear technology scaled down to a fraction of the size of larger plants and would be able to produce around a tenth of the electricity created by large-scale projects, such as EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C.
The mini-nuclear power plants could help to solve Britain’s looming power crunch and cost a lot less than large nuclear plants, companies developing the technology say.
Such plants are still under construction but developers say they could be ready for deployment by the mid-2020s. Critics say there is no guarantee developers will be able to cut costs enough to make the plants viable.
A government-backed study released on the same day as the announcement showed the cost of building and operating and SMRs in 2031 will be around 101 pounds per megawatt hour (MWh), compared to 79 pounds/MWh for large nuclear and 98-121 pounds/MWh for combined cycle gas turbine plants.
Although SMRs initially have a higher cost, that should go down over time as experience drives down the capital cost of production, the report said.
“This is in addition to the potential benefit of SMRs in ensuring security of supply with low-carbon technology that is expected to be both viable without government debt-financing and that is able to run more flexibly than large nuclear,” the study conducted by engineering consultancy Atkins said.
Almost half of Britain’s electricity capacity is expected to close by 2030, as older, large nuclear plants come to the end of their operational lives and coal plants shut as part of the country’s efforts to meet its climate goals.
“Nuclear is a vital part of our energy mix, providing low carbon power now and into the future so today’s package of new measures will help to boost innovation and provide greater clarity on our future plans,” British energy minister Richard Harrington said.
The government also pledged a further 86 million pounds for nuclear fusion research at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire.
It also set out the process for assessing potentially suitable sites for new nuclear plants with more than 1 gigawatt of capacity after 2025. ($1 = 0.7468 pounds) (Reporting by Nina Chestney, editing by David Evans)