The UK today (Tuesday) announced a push to develop “game changing” small modular reactors (SMRs) as part of a new nuclear power drive that was slammed by green groups as a distraction from the crucial issue of growing renewables.

Britain’s Department of Energy Security and Net Zero said it will start registering interest from companies to secure funding to boost SMR development that it claimed could unleash “billions of pounds” of public and private investment in the reactors, often dubbed ‘mini nuclear’.

Major technology groups such as Rolls-Royce in the UK and GE-Hitachi are advancing SMR designs that they aim to offer as more compact, easier to deploy alternatives to the vast multi-gigawatt power stations that have characterised most nuclear development to date.

Rolls-Royce has previously said that its latest 470MW SMR design could match offshore wind on power costs at around £50/MWh ($65/MWh).

UK energy security and net zero secretary Grant Shapps said: “Today, as we open Great British Nuclear and the competition to develop cutting-edge small modular reactor technology, which could result in billions of pounds of public and private sector investment, we are seeing the first brush strokes of our nuclear power renaissance to power up Britain and grow our economy for decades to come.”

The move was immediately condemned by green groups which claim the UK should be focusing its funding firepower on renewables and the associated infrastructure needed to support them rather than nuclear.

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Doug Parr said: "By continually obsessing about nuclear the government is taking its eye off the net zero ball, which will have to be delivered through a predominantly renewable, modern electricity grid.

“No number of SMRs will fix the government’s lacklustre effort to address issues of delayed connections, smart local grids and home efficiency.”

Parr added: “The government may argue that renewables can compete in the market unaided, while nuclear still needs state support to survive, but atomic power has been showered with money and support for the best part of a century without ever working well enough to pay its way. This is a technology that has gone straight from adolescence to obsolescence without passing through maturity.”

Recharge reported last week how nuclear was flagged as a potential solution to regional transmission congestion in a study by global power technology group GE Vernova.