Word from the President
Does the drive for new build based on standard global reactor designs reduce the scope for innovation?
These are truly exciting and challenging times for all of us in the nuclear industry. Many countries are either rethinking nuclear closure plans or reviewing their energy policies and placing nuclear as part of a low carbon energy mix. And some countries now have new build projects well underway.
For everyone, whether policy-makers, utilities, vendors or constructors, the lessons of the past are being taken very seriously. We are all intent on making a success of this opportunity. In the past our industry had the reputation for expensive projects delivered late and over budget. One of the reasons for this was that many stations were unique. Each one intended to be an improvement over previous stations.
The new nuclear build programmes are taking the lessons from the past and there is a strong desire for there to be
'standard' designs for each design of reactor that are then built around the globe. In this way all but the first reactor avoids the 'first of a kind' (FOAK) syndrome. The supply industry is forming around a handful of reactor vendors each with this model in mind.
One fundamental question that this new delivery model raises is: Where does this leaves innovation? The nuclear industry is a technology-based industry and the lifeblood of all technology industries is innovation. As scientists and engineers we continually strive to improve. We are skilled at seeing the shortcomings or inefficiencies of previous designs and then working out better ways of doing things. But, in the new world of avoiding FOAK change is anathema.
The fact is, however, that the 'standard' global designs will not be identical around the globe. They will have to be modified for a number of reasons. For example, the site conditions for each station need to be taken into account; some countries operate on 50 cycles and others on 60 cycles, national safety regulators may demand modifications, some nations work to imperial standards rather than metric; etc. But the strong inclination will be to not change anything unnecessarily.
My observations focus on the building of new nuclear power stations. Of course, innovation will continue to be welcomed in the other sectors of our industry - nuclear medicine, decommissioning and plant operations. But it seems to me that, for new build, there is a real challenge for those of us in academia and research to explore those improvements in current designs that would be acceptable to current vendors and regulators whilst also pursuing those step changes in technology that will drive the next generation of global standard reactors.