Nuclear power could produce a third of the UK’s clean hydrogen needs by 2050, according to a roadmap unveiled by the Nuclear Industry Council (NIC).
On 18 February, the NIC outlined how large-scale and small modular reactors (SMRs) can generate the necessary power and heat to produce green hydrogen. With nuclear stations able to provide a constant, reliable supply of power, electrolysers can operate more efficiently, cutting production costs. Large-scale reactors can produce green hydrogen today at scale through electrolysis, as could next generation gigawatt-scale reactors, while SMRs can unlock further possibilities for green hydrogen production near industrial clusters.
It further drew on advanced modular reactors (AMRs) under development, noting they offer one of the most promising innovations for green hydrogen production. This is because they will create temperatures high enough to split water without diverting electricity. This ability to generate both power and hydrogen would cut costs further, add flexibility and allow co-location of reactors with industry, further aiding decarbonisation.
The Committee on Climate Change has estimated the UK will have to generate four times as much clean power by 2050, as well as 225TWh of low carbon hydrogen to enable decarbonisation. Nuclear can be a key part of the clean hydrogen mix, with the roadmap setting an ambition to produce 75TWh of hydrogen by 2050, with around 12-13GW of dedicated nuclear capacity capable of producing this.
However, to develop green hydrogen capabilities for all types of nuclear reactors, policy and regulatory issues must be overcome with cost identified as the main barrier.
In a bid to rectify this, it recommended a grant and subsidy scheme is set up to encourage research and development to help reduce the costs of electrolysers; a new funding model to reduce the cost of capital associated with nuclear projects, cutting the price of the electricity they produce; and for government and Ofgem to collaborate, exploring the scope for a new scheme to gradually replace payments to zero carbon generators for constraining generation with support for hydrogen production.
It also called for an ambitious carbon pricing system that reflects the full externalities of emissions and the UK’s net zero target; ensuring nuclear-produced hydrogen does qualify for Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) support; ensuring that nuclear-hydrogen production in a range of forms is eligible for inclusion in the recently announced Net Zero Hydrogen Production fund; and that an AMR development timeline is set out, including a demonstration of hydrogen production technology, involving five-year R&D funding settlements to provide stability.