Within a few weeks the Nuclear Innovation Research Office (hosted by the NNL) will have started up, with some initial start-up funds from DECC (at least £600,000).
Looking at the existing publicly owned nuclear assets from the point of view of Generation IV nuclear proponents, it becomes immediately obvious that many of the main options for developing a future UK reactor research and development programme involve making better and different use of assets currently administered and controlled on behalf of the Public by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
The prime assets of interest to me as a systems engineer are:
1. Existing nuclear trained workforces that are soon to have no work or reduced workloads [particularly at Wylfa Magnox Reactor (to be shutdown 2014/2015) and the Trawsfynydd site to enter a minimal workforce care and maintenance phase in 2016 sometime]
2. A Civilian Plutonium Stockpile
3. Wylfa Magnox Gas Cooled Reactor and what it can achieve safely and cost-effectively in its final years of operation.
In terms of the Wylfa Magnox Reactor I am asking for a new conversation over its future.
I want to know in particular if it can be used in its last few years of operation for:
(a) bulk testing of a range of new materials in regards to neutron degradation (to help quickly eliminate the poorest performing new material candidates prior to the better candidates being tested more thoroughly at higher neutron fluxes at the Jules Horowitz reactor)
(b) breeding sufficient Uranium-233 from Thorium Fuel to be able to start a Generation IV Thorium molten salt test reactor.
(The results coming from the Thor Energy Thorium Fuel Test Programme are extremely pertinent to this question http://www.thorenergy.no/
I am forced to ask the second controversial question, because the NDA has at the moment ruled the possibility of the UK's plutonium reserve being used for the purpose of starting Generation IV nuclear reactors (including molten salt reactors)
As I see it one of the prime questions for the Nuclear Innovation Research Office (NIRO) to address is:
How can the assets of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) be used more wisely, to the long term economic benefit of the UK?
The conversation will continue and hopefully an answer or pathway to an answer soon forthcoming...