The mini nuclear reactor that could provide thermal energy to your plant within a decade
Mini-nuclear reactors capable of supplying green energy to heavy industry could be operational within a decade, according to the British consortium behind the project.
U-Battery has partnered with Cavendish Nuclear to build a 50-foot-tall full-scale mock-up of an Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) that, rather than powering turbines like traditional reactors, could one day deliver nuclear power. superheated nitrogen directly in the factories.
They hope a uranium core the size of a family car could be used to provide the kind of heat needed in industries ranging from cement and ceramics manufacturing to chemical production and even papermaking. .
Reserve heat could even be used to heat greenhouses and hospitals; make hydrogen for cars, buses, industry or home; power small electric turbines; or even be used in desalination or water purification plants.
They said AMRs could also be useful in off-grid locations such as mining plants in northern Canada – a country interested in small-scale nuclear power – which currently rely on diesel, which is expensive to transport and dirty. .
U-Battery – a spin-off from British uranium enrichment company Urenco – estimates that a country the size of Canada could have around 600 sites where existing diesel generators could be replaced.
Around £20m has been pumped into the UK project, including around £1.6m for the design and installation of the mock-up at Cavendish Nuclear’s test and maintenance facility at Whetstone, just outside Leicester. It was one of the sites where Sir Frank Whittle developed the first jet engines.
Pending government support and favorable nuclear legislation, the first functional demonstrator could be operational by 2028 and the first prefabricated reactors installed soon after.
Each could cost around £50million with a 30-year lifespan that could be doubled through refurbishment. The fuel should be replaced approximately every five years.
A stand-alone company would operate each fully automated AMR and the energy would then be sold to individual customers.
The partnership says the uranium used would be cleaner than existing nuclear due to the way it is contained in tiny pellets of enriched uranium – although disposal remains a contentious issue.
U-Battery managing director Steve Threlfall said the power produced would be reliable and low-carbon, but would need to be economical to find room in the market alongside ever-changing sources like as solar, wind, thermal and marine energy.
There are about two dozen groups around the world developing AMR technology.
Mr Threlfall said: “Right now reactors are huge things that produce electricity for the grid – so we asked if you wanted to produce electricity on a much smaller scale, for remote locations or off-grid people. And there are also many industries that need treated heat.
“As we try to decarbonize the planet, the world needs nuclear power, whether big, small or small – and we have found a market we can aim for.
“We’re also trying to do something that’s cost-effective because it’s never going to work if it’s much, much more expensive than fossil fuels.
“The other thing is it’s incredibly tough – there’s basically three shells around the uranium, so even if you lose the helium coolant and you don’t get the heat out, the temperature uranium can go up to 1,100°C whereas this fuel could go up to 1,600°C without any problem.
He said that the disposal of nuclear waste – possibly deep – would be covered financially by a fund set up for the duration of the operation.
U-Battery’s lead engineer, John Eldridge, said: ‘The type of technology we use dates back around 60 years to the Dragon Reactor at Winfrith in Dorset.
“The novelty here is how we want to deliver it – the ability to manufacture the modules in the factories and then move them to site. It’s basically plug and play.
He said each AMR could take less than two years to build and have a small physical footprint.
The actual 30-foot-wide reactor section would weigh about 80 tons with a 40-ton core and would be protected from potential earthquake damage by its mountings. This part of the structure would also generally be underground.
Lee Whitworth is head of engineering at Cavendish Nuclear, part of the £4 billion Babcock international aerospace, defense and security group.
He said: “This is a really exciting time for the nuclear industry.
“This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity where new nuclear engineering is designed, built and operated in the UK.”
The partnership awaits the government’s next decision after the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced last spring that it would invest up to £170m in research and development of a AMR demonstrator by the early 2030s.