The UK government is to offer £157million in grants as part of its launch of a new body to support the nuclear power industry.
Great British Nuclear (GBN) will be responsible for helping to deliver the government’s commitment to supply a quarter of the UK’s electricity from nuclear power by 2050.
The new body will help spur the rapid expansion of nuclear power stations in the UK, boost energy security and reduce reliance on fossil fuel imports, Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said.
It is hoped that a competition to develop small modular reactors (SMRs) will result in billions of pounds of investment in the technology, which the government hopes will be cheaper and faster to build than traditional large nuclear power stations.
However, environmental activists and academics have argued that SMRs have no track record and that time and resources would be better spent on renewables such as offshore wind.
The launch at the Science Museum in London on Tuesday was delayed from last week after it clashed with the government’s public sector pay deal announcement.
Previous attempts by the government to attract funds for large conventional reactors have so far only succeeded at the badly delayed and overbudgeted Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset.
Shapps is expected to announce the competition winners in the fall, with a number of manufacturing companies such as Rolls-Royce and Hitachi interested in developing SMR.
The government has said it remains committed to Hinkley Point C and also Sizewell C, a nuclear power station in Suffolk which was announced last year and has been backed by £700m of public funds.
Along with the competition launch, Shapps announced that up to £157m in grants would be available. There will be up to £77m to accelerate the development of nuclear activity in the UK and support new designs, and a further £58m for the development and design of a new advanced modular reactor which operates at higher temperatures.
Shapps said: “Britain has a rich history as a pioneer in nuclear power, having launched the era of civilian nuclear power, and I am proud to be driving its renaissance and once again placing our country at the forefront of global innovation. By rapidly increasing our local supply of nuclear and other clean, reliable and plentiful energy, we will reduce bills for British homes and ensure that the UK is never held hostage by tyrants like [Vladimir] Cheese fries.
“Today, as we open up Great British Nuclear and competition to develop cutting-edge small modular reactor technology, which could drive billions of pounds of public and private sector investment, we are seeing the first brush strokes of our renaissance of nuclear power to power Britain and grow our economy for decades to come.
Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr accused the government of being “obsessed” with nuclear power and denounced SMRs.