By Daniel Hunter

The nuclear industry received a boost today (Tuesday) as Business Secretary Vince Cable announced major new funding awards that will enhance the supply chain and increase opportunities to commercialise new technologies in the sector.

The funding will support 35 projects across the UK in developing new technologies for the construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plants. This will bring together over 60 experienced organisations including Laing O’Rourke, Sheffield Forgemasters and EDF. They will work alongside innovative small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and universities.

The £18 million joint funding between the Technology Strategy Board, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is expected to leverage in an additional £13 million making the total value of the projects £31 million.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “There are huge global opportunities that the UK is well placed to take advantage of in the nuclear industry. Our strong research base will help develop exciting new technologies that can be commercialised here and then exported across the globe.

“The Technology Strategy Board is playing a vital role in helping UK businesses realise their potential and compete on a bigger scale. There are many innovative SMEs across the nuclear sector and this joint funding reinforces the government’s commitment to a nuclear strategy that will create jobs and growth.”

The announcement has been made alongside the publication of the government’s nuclear industrial strategy, which sets out the objectives to develop a strong and sustainable nuclear industry in the UK.

Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board Iain Gray said: “Delivering a new fleet of nuclear power stations to help meet the country’s energy needs involves a number of highly-sophisticated and leading edge technologies. The support announced today will help to develop capabilities in this country. That is good news for the economy because it will help us build a world-leading technology base that can provide solutions around the world as well as here in the UK.”

One of the projects to receive major investment is Bristol-based OC Robotics. They have received almost £6 million in funding — the largest ever grant given to an SME by the Technology Strategy Board.

The company is developing a new technology called LaserSnake. It is a robot- controlled laser cutting tool that can be used underwater or above ground in confined and hazardous spaces. It could play a key role in nuclear decommissioning projects to dismantle vessels, support structures and pipe work.

The new funding will help OC Robotics to develop the technology to a full demonstration project which could lead to the UK being a world leader in this technology. The technology also has the potential to be used across other sectors including the military and construction industries.

Dr Adrian Simper, the NDA’s Strategy and Technology Director, said: “We were extremely pleased with the level of interest in decommissioning projects from both established organisations and smaller, newer businesses. Our decommissioning strategy focuses very much on developing innovative technologies through collaborative working, while joint funding initiatives such as this increase the investment potential and provide much broader opportunities for interested partners.

“We also welcome the comprehensive nature of the subject areas, covering new build as well as decommissioning, which will enable the sharing and transfer of technologies between the different nuclear sectors.”

By 2030 it is forecast that globally there will be £930 billion investment in building new reactors and £250 billion in decommissioning those that are coming off-line. The nuclear new build programme in the UK alone could generate up to 40,000 jobs at its peak. The nuclear industrial strategy sets out the basis for a long-term partnership between government and industry to exploit those opportunities.

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