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UK Government Invests £196 Million in Advanced Nuclear Fuels Facility Development

Image: (L-R) Urenco CEO Boris Schucht and Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho Credit: DESNZ

Urenco is set to collaborate on funding the UK's inaugural advanced nuclear fuel production facility in Cheshire, backed by a £196 million government grant. Slated for operation starting in the early 2030s, this facility will produce nuclear fuel for both local and international reactors.

The government announced today that this uranium enrichment facility will generate 400 jobs, enhance energy security nationally and internationally, reduce energy costs, and support low-carbon nuclear power production.

Located in Capenhurst, this pioneering facility will be Europe's first to manufacture advanced nuclear fuels, offering an alternative to the current market, which Russia predominantly controls. This initiative is part of a broader government strategy to "push Putin out of the global energy market and drive down energy bills."

Currently, Russia is the sole commercial supplier of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU). However, the new facility at Urenco is projected to produce up to 10 tonnes of this fuel annually by 2031, equivalent to the energy yield of over one million tonnes of coal.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) indicated that the facility, partially funded by the state-affiliated Urenco, is expected to supply advanced nuclear fuel for residential power within the next decade.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak emphasized the importance of the project, stating that constructing a uranium enrichment plant is "essential if we want to prise Putin's blood-soaked hands off Europe's energy market."

"Russia has been the sole provider of this powerful nuclear fuel for too long, and this marks the latest step in pushing him out of the energy market entirely," he said. "The wider future of British nuclear remains a critical national endeavour - guaranteeing nuclear and energy security, and reducing energy bills for Brits."

This development is a component of a larger £763 million investment by the UK government in the nuclear sector. The government aims to establish 24GW of nuclear capacity by mid-century, an initiative that is integral to the nation's energy security and net zero ambitions.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) highlighted that high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is vital for fueling small and advanced modular reactors central to the government's nuclear strategy.

Claire Coutinho, the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, emphasized the strategic importance of diversifying fuel sources, stating that the government will not allow Russia to "hold us to ransom on nuclear fuel."

"Backing Urenco to build a uranium enrichment plant here in the UK will mean we are the first European nation outside Russia to produce advanced nuclear fuel," she added. "This will support hundreds of new jobs, bring investment for the people in Cheshire, and is a huge win for energy security at home and abroad."

Proponents of next-generation nuclear reactors advocate their efficiency and cost-effectiveness compared to larger, traditional nuclear power stations. These modern reactors are potential solutions for decarbonizing heavy industries, generating hydrogen, or even providing residential heating. However, critics contend that this promising technology remains untested on a large scale and is hindered by the nuclear industry's historical challenges in completing projects on time and within budget.

This announcement is part of a broader wave of nuclear-related developments this week, highlighted by a significant milestone for French energy conglomerate EDF. Just yesterday, EDF received a nuclear site license for its forthcoming Sizewell C power plant on the Suffolk coast, a move described as a "significant step forward" for the project.

Mina Golshan, Sizewell C's Safety, Security, and Assurance Director, hailed the issuance of the site license as "a huge milestone," affirming that the project is progressing steadily and is on the right track.

"Securing a nuclear site licence is a show of confidence from our nuclear regulator that we have a suitable site, that we can achieve a safe design replicated from Hinkley Point C, and that we have a capable organisation ready to begin major construction work," she said.

EDF is gearing up to make a final investment decision on the high-profile Sizewell C project in the upcoming months. However, this decision hinges on the government's ability to secure additional private-sector investment to support the project's financial structure.

The government has initiated a new consultation to classify all nuclear fusion plants as nationally significant infrastructure. This proposed change would grant ministers the ultimate authority to grant planning approvals for new nuclear projects, streamlining the process and potentially accelerating the development of nuclear fusion technology within the country.

Boris Schucht, CEO of Urenco, said: "The responsibility the nuclear industry has to help governments and customers to achieve climate change and energy security goals is clear.

"We welcome this government investment, which will help accelerate the development of a civil HALEU commercial market and, in turn, the development of the next generation of nuclear power plants. These plants will have even higher safety standards and lend themselves to quicker licensing and construction processes."


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