UK Launches $381 Million Fuel Program to Power Advanced Nuclear Reactors

Nuclear power plant site in Europe

(Credit: Unsplash)

by | Jan 8, 2024

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The United Kingdom has launched a high-tech, high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) program that will support the development of advanced nuclear reactors while aiming to reduce reliance on Russian fuel imports.

This move reportedly makes the U.K. the first European country to embark on such a program, and Russia will no longer be the only commercial producer of the fuel as a result.

HALEU is a required fuel for advanced nuclear reactors, made with smaller designs than conventional nuclear plants but capable of generating more power per unit of volume. The United States Department of Energy has called HALEU  a “pressing need” as more advanced reactors are built to create clean energy, bring clean water to communities, and decarbonize industrial processes, among other applications.

The new investment contributes to the U.K.’s goal of delivering 24 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050, enough to meet about a quarter of its electricity needs. Along with the initial investment, $12.7 million will be directed towards skills and site development in order to secure domestic nuclear fuel supply chains in the long term.

“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. This will be critical for energy security at home and abroad and builds on Britain’s historic competitive advantages.”

The first HALEU plant is expected to be operational in the early 2030s, according to the U.K. government.

Global Push to End Reliance on Russian Fuels

A number of countries have announced plans to bolster domestic clean energy production as Russian imports have faced price volatility and allow for continued financial support for the war in Ukraine.

Many European countries have recently ramped up clean energy development and are storing liquid natural gas (LNG) domestically to avoid their traditionally heavy reliance on Russian LNG. Japan is also reportedly working to revitalize its domestic nuclear energy supply, also to reduce reliance on Russian LNG. China and India, however, have increased fuel imports from Russia, and the country continues to earn about $500 million to $1 billion each day from oil and gas sales.

The U.K. also plans to construct advanced nuclear reactors to boost its domestic energy supply, and the government recently restated its commitment to reduce global reliance on Russian fuels along with G7 nuclear partners.

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