Will Russian nuclear reactors power the UK?

How soon until Russian nuclear experts begin establishing VVER reactors on British soil – and what does it mean for nuclear engineers?

In a recent talk with Edinburgh University students, Hergen Haye, Head of New Nuclear Development at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), revealed that discussions are currently underway with Russia on building a nuclear power station.

“I can tell you that, behind closed doors and with microphones switched off, there are interesting debates happening in Whitehall,” he said. “Russia wants to build a nuclear power station in the UK.”

A memorandum has already been signed, and while the road to making this idea an actual reality is long, the Russian state nuclear power company is keen to press ahead. While Hayes deems the Russian VVER reactor as being completely safe, he predicts that the main roadblocks will come from convincing the British people that a deal with Russia was acceptable; the current situation in Crimea being top of the list.

“It’s a long road, a very long road,” he said, going on to state that a Russian/British nuclear power station was unlikely to manifest within the next ten years – at least. Ultimately the decision isn’t solely his to make, which is why discussions are currently underway.

The DECC and the Russian state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, signed a memorandum back in September 2013. The aim of which was “designed to be the most effective means of enabling Rosatom to prepare for entry into the United Kingdom civil nuclear market.”

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With the help of the UK government’s watchdogs, the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency, Rosatom will be able to understand and navigate the British regulatory and licensing requirements. In addition to this, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills would provide guidance and facilitation of building commercial links with key industry partners. This forward planning will lay the groundwork for a project that transitions smoothly from ideas to practical application.

Rolls Royce, a nuclear engineering company in Britain, has already been touted as taking the lead on nuclear construction projects in the future. The existing partnership with Rosatom could see an initial surge in nuclear engineering consultation during the formative stages of the project.

In addition to the Rolls Royce partnership, Rosatom have signed a deal with Fortnum, the Finnish power company. Finland currently runs two of the proposed VVER reactors on their shore, and have gone on record as describing Rosatom as masters of the “peaceful atom”. The Finnish nuclear supervision process is one of the strictest globally, and the nuclear experts in Finland chose Rosatom because of their adherence to the highest echelon of post-Fukushima safety standards. In addition to an excellent safety record, the Russian technology has an excellent quality-to-price ratio.

It’s clear that nuclear power is a tempting possibility for the UK energy market. An injection of nuclear engineering jobs along with the obvious benefit of clean, safe power, appears to be a win/win for the civil nuclear market. While the going may be slow at the moment, providing that all moral, financial and regulatory conditions have been met, it’s likely that we’ll see an increasing emphasis on nuclear in the coming decades.

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