UK boosts nuclear capacity

Nicola Brittain

A new neutron measurement facility will play a critical role in the development of the UK’s energy sector.

Although most of the UK’s existing nuclear capacity is due to be retired by 2030, a new generation of nuclear plants are either under construction or under consideration. Geopolitical considerations such as the war in the Ukraine catalysed a drive to develop “homegrown power” in the UK. In 2023 the British government launched the Great British Nuclear government body to develop new projects, as well as a £120m Future Nuclear Enabling Fund to stimulate competition and unlock investment. In addition, in January this year, the government announced a nuclear generation roadmap to increase nuclear generation by up to four times by 2050.

The national physical laboratory

In line with these developments the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has announced a new neutron measurement facility in Teddington, London that it says will play a critical role in the safe and secure operation and continued development of the UK’s nuclear energy, defence and fusion research sectors.

Features of the facility

The facility consists of a new particle accelerator and is one of only a few facilities worldwide that offers precision traceable neutron standards.

The accelerator system - a 2.0 MV Coaxial VHC Tandetron manufactured by High Voltage Engineering Europa - is six times more powerful than the accelerator it replaces.

The upgraded neutron facility addresses several current, future, and emerging needs in the nuclear sector.

This will include the assessment of new instrumentation and detectors required to ensure the UK’s nuclear infrastructure and future reactors operate safely and efficiently. It will provide the expertise and facilities enabling neutron diagnostics, neutronics benchmark and validation experiments to support the work at UK-based world-leading fusion research organisations and their supply chains.

The facility’s role

The NPL will also calibrate new area survey instruments and personal dosemeter products to assure the safety of workers within the nuclear sector.

More than 60 years after the installation of NPL’s first neutron measurement facility at Teddington, the new accelerator aims to ensure that the UK government can “provide an enduring and resilient measurement infrastructure, ensuring that measurements can always be made in the UK with integrity and consistency”, as set out in the British Government’s 2022 UK Measurement Strategy.

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