Nuclear fission currently provides 20% of UK electricity and is widely seen as a key part of the "trinity" of future fuel options for the UK, alongside renewables and CCS enabled fossil fuels.
Research challenges in this area include legacy waste clean-up, decommissioning and disposal, technological challenges for the current planned new nuclear build, and future (generation IV) technologies. These challenges include, not only science and engineering, but also the environmental, social and economic aspects and how these influence regulation and policy. A further challenge is ensuring the sufficient capacity of highly trained researchers.
We are currently supporting research in this area that includes collaboration with industrial partners, and with other funding agencies both in the UK and overseas. Key past investments include: Keeping the Nuclear Option Open (KNOO), a research programme focusing on new reactor technology, waste disposal and materials as well as providing significant levels of training; Decommissioning Immobilisation And Management Of Nuclear wastes for Disposal (DIAMOND) project; and the Sustainability assessment of nuclear power (SPRing) project.
Current investments include the Radioactivity and the Environment Programme, Performance and reliability of metallic materials for nuclear fission, REFINE,
Recent significant funded activities include the National Nuclear Users Facility, involvement with the TSB led nuclear supply chain programme, a programme of research into the nuclear fuel cycle (PACIFIC), and a new programme on decommissioning and waste treatment research (DISTINCTIVE) that replaces the DIAMOND project.
Additionally two doctoral training centres, Nuclear FiRST and the Nuclear Engineering IDC, have been training doctoral students since 2009 and had their final intake in 2013. The latest supported nuclear CDTs, Next Generation Nuclear and Civil Nuclear Skills for Global Markets, will begin operating in 2014 and will have their final intake in 2018.
Continuing support in this area is critical to the decommissioning of the existing nuclear generating power stations and the development of new nuclear build and its potential as a key component in delivering the UK's low carbon economy.