Public awareness of SMR is low, despite major role in UK energy plans

More than half of the public are unaware of small modular nuclear reactors, according to data from an online government poll.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department conducted an online survey of a random sample of the public to gauge responses to basic questions about renewable energy and infrastructure, as part of a seasonal monitoring of public attitudes.

The poll, which took place last fall, found that 54% of respondents “had never heard of” the new generation of smaller nuclear reactors; only 6% said they “knew a lot or a lot”.

Men were more likely than women to be aware of SMRs: 57% versus 35%. Meanwhile, respondents with a degree had higher awareness than respondents without a qualification.

SMRs are mini-versions of traditional nuclear power plants that can largely be built in modular form in offsite factories before being assembled on site. It is an approach that reduces development costs and time compared to traditional nuclear power plant constructions. The government has backed SMRs as part of its decarbonisation plans because of their low-carbon energy generation – a point reiterated in its Energy Security Strategy, published last week.

Simon Middleburgh, an academic at Bangor University’s Nuclear Futures Institute, said it was important for the public to be made aware of the benefits of the technology.

“The vendor must make it their core mission to show the benefits of SMR, enabling this highly scalable and exportable technology to be on the tip of the tongue of the general public eager to fight climate change and decarbonize our industry,” did he declare.

Furthermore, he said that by educating the public, more scientists and engineers would be attracted to the SMR job market, which was crucial for the design, operation and eventual decommissioning of reactors.

Increased awareness of the technology has also been a pathway to more financial investment, Middleburgh added: “By gaining public acceptance and trust, the SMR industry will be able to secure new investment from private businesses in the UK and beyond, generating new economic and societal benefits.”

The government has committed £210 million for the construction of SMR, after raising £250 million of private investment. Rolls-Royce is leading the development of these nuclear reactors and 90% will be manufactured in the factory. SMRs will cost around £2 billion, almost a tenth of the price of a full-scale reactor plant such as Hinkley Point C.

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