Ministers announce £20m for nuclear R&D

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The UK government is to commit more than £20m towards research and development into nuclear power as part of an industrial strategy that aims to help the country compete in the global market.

The funding, to be announced on Tuesday, will be topped up with an additional £13m of private sector investment and comes just days after planning consent was given for the first new atomic reactor in the UK since 1995.

The strategy, to be unveiled jointly by business secretary Vince Cable and Ed Davey, the energy secretary, will cover all aspects of the market, from waste management and decommissioning to new build. It follows the launch of the government’s strategy for the aerospace industry last week and is part of an overall thrust to support sectors perceived to possess high growth potential.

The amount is relatively small compared with the £1bn earmarked for aerospace, but Lord Hutton, chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, said “you’ve got to start somewhere”.

“This is a necessary strategic approach for an industry that needs [one],” he said.

“There is so much debate about plans for new reactors today but there is a world beyond 2030 . . . and with the right research we could be a nuclear nation again,” he added.

The strategy is expected to include details of 35 new R&D projects awarded £18m of support from a competition run by the Technology Strategy Board, the UK innovations agency.

One of the beneficiaries is OC Robotics in Bristol, which has received close to £6m to develop a robot-controlled laser cutting tool that can be used as part of nuclear decommissioning projects.

One of the biggest areas of concern for the industry is skills shortages, especially in light of the planned new-build programme, which could generate up to 40,000 jobs.

The strategy will be overseen by the Nuclear Industry Council, co-chaired by ministers and industry representatives. It is expected to commit an additional £15m to a new National Nuclear Users Facility for universities and companies carrying out research.

Sir John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser, will also unveil on Tuesday the results of a review of Britain’s nuclear R&D capability.

One area of focus is expected to be small modular reactors, which are seen by many experts as a way of cutting down on the spiralling costs that have dogged the industry in recent years.

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