The UK will become the first European country to launch a programme for high-tech uranium production — aiming to cut reliance on imports from Russia for the development of next-gen nuclear reactors.
Specifically, the government is investing £300mn (€348mn) in high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) in a bid to “push Putin out of the global energy market.”
HALEU — which is currently commercially produced only in Russia — is necessary to power the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors.
The government believes that advanced modular reactors, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), will play a key role to the UK’s nuclear revival. One reason why is that they could enable the faster and cheaper construction of power stations. They also have the potential to generate low-carbon electricity and produce hydrogen, as well as industrial heat.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, SMRs require between 5% and 20% of HALEU.
The nuclear fuel’s production hub is planned for the North West of England and the government will pour an additional £10mn (€11.6mnn) to help develop the necessary skills and sites to also produce other advanced fuels as well. The first plant is expected to be operational in the early 2030s.
The £300mn investment in HALEU is part of the UK’s plan to deliver up to 24GW of clean nuclear power by 2050 — a quarter of the country’s electricity needs.
“We stood up to Putin on oil and gas and financial markets, we won’t let him hold us to ransom on nuclear fuel,” said Claire Coutinho, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero.
“Britain gave the world its first operational nuclear power plant, and now we will be the first nation in Europe outside of Russia to produce advanced nuclear fuel.”
At the COP28 climate summit, the UK was one of the 22 countries — including France, Finland, and the Netherlands — to commit to tripling global nuclear capacity by 2050 as a means to reducing carbon emissions. For example, France has also pledged €1bn in nuclear projects, including startups working on SMRs.