The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is concerned with the plans of TSP Engineering to develop ‘small’ modular lead-cooled nuclear reactors in Workington, in cooperation with partners in Sweden.
The Cumbrian company suggests over 1,000 new jobs could be created as part of a new industry developing multiple small reactors. They argue this could restore the new nuclear plans in the county after the collapse of the plans to develop the Sellafield Moorside site by Toshiba. (1)
NFLA has recently supported a detailed analysis of the prospects for small modular nuclear reactors undertaken by Professor Steve Thomas, Dr Paul Dorfman and Professor M V Ramana. This sober and independent analysis suggested the prospects for significant development of such technology is actually quite limited due to economies of scale and the large financial resources required to develop and promote the technology. (2)
The NFLA Secretariat have asked Professor Thomas and Professor Ramana for their analysis of the prospects for such new developments like this one proposed in Cumbria.
Professor Thomas notes that the technology proposed by TSP Engineering is the ‘Leadcold’ lead-cooled fast reactor, which is one of eight designs that received money from the UK Government’s nuclear sector deal pot of £4m. An additional pot of £40m to further develop four of these designs was recently announced by the UK Government. However, such limited funds will not go far in developing such a reactor design.
This Swedish design by ‘Leadcold’ has some presence in Canada but for a considerably smaller design of 3-10 MW. This design has to date only got to the preliminary stage in Canada. It is likely that this development remains many years away from starting the type of multiple factory style construction process being put forward, and not as rosy as the proponents for such technology suggest so often in the UK media. (3)
Professor Ramana adds that, in terms of lead cooled reactors, the French nuclear safety institute IRSN has noted of this technology:
“The main drawback of lead-cooled (or LBE-cooled) reactors is that the coolant tends to corrode and erode stainless steel structures. The process currently under consideration to overcome this problem involves creating an iron oxide layer on the surface of these structures. However, mastering this process seems complicated owing to considerable constraints in terms of operating temperature and reactor coolant purification. The reactor operating temperature range is also limited by the risk of the lead freezing. LFR safety is thus highly reliant on operating procedures, which does not seem desirable in a Generation IV reactor. The highly toxic nature of lead and its related products, especially polonium isotope 210 (210Po), produced when lead-bismuth is used, raises the problem of acceptability owing to the potential environmental impact of the facility.”
In addition, IRSN has also described a number of potentially severe accident sequences that might occur in such reactors. (4)
For NFLA, its clear interest in putting forward this information is to emphasise that there are much warm words from the nuclear industry and pro-nuclear governments about small nuclear reactors, but huge obstacles for the sector to overcome. Unless very large amounts of public money is offered to the nuclear industry it is unlikely such technology will be realised. NFLA believe the cheaper and more readily available renewable energy alternatives are a far more sensible use of the limited public resources that can be provided.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor David Blackburn added:
“The recent Anglo-Swedish moves to develop small nuclear reactors technology sounds very ambitious and symptomatic of the push from the nuclear industry to replace the failings of larger nuclear reactors with a potential new alternative. However, even a simple, independent analysis of the lead cooling reactor technology being put forward shows many expensive technical barriers to overcome and it is likely to take considerable time to achieve – time we cannot afford to take when a climate emergency is upon us. Renewable technology remains the answer to our low carbon energy, heating and transport needs. Let’s take this ‘new’ nuclear technology with a real pinch of salt and reject the vast public resource that would be required to make it work.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Carlisle News & Star 18th Aug 2019
(2) NFLA / NCG joint report on the Prospects for Small Nuclear Reactors, July 2019
(4) IRSN, Review of Generation IV Reactors, April 2015