The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the long-awaited Spring Budget Jeremy Hunthas relaunched the so-called ‘Great British Nuclear’ program with which Downing Street plans to lead to the production of a quarter of the Kingdom’s electricity from nuclear power by 2050. The old nuclear plants, which currently generate 13% of the country’s electricity, will be closed by 2030. Hunt has therefore launched the first competition to build small modular reactors (such as those developed by Rolls-Royce), as demonstration plants to test the feasibility of fission energy technology to replace disused power plants. The finance minister of the Sunak government has also officially reclassified nuclear energy as a ‘sustainable source for the environment’ thus extending to this energy source the same incentives and investments planned for renewables, but without specifying – as requested by the oppositions – what solved the problem of the environmental impact of nuclear power so much as to motivate this declassification. A little over a year ago, energy equal to 59 megajoules was produced for five seconds by the European experimental reactor Jet (Joint European Torus), in Great Britain. And last December a historic announcement also came from the United States.
Meanwhile, a nuclear micro reactor is being designed to power a human base on the Moon. The mission is like a sci-fi movie but the investment is real: £2.9 million (approximately £3.3 million), funded by theBritish Space Agency (UK Space Agency) to Rolls Royce, the British aerospace and defense giant. The objective of the new reactor will be to produce the electricity necessary to sustain the life of astronauts and communication systems on the Moon, so as to be able to extend human missions on our only natural satellite and facilitate scientific research and space programs which could mark our future on the Earth, or maybe in space. “Space exploration is the best of laboratories for the development of essential technologies on Earth, such as robotics, nutrition, decarbonization and cleantech (clean technology, ed), for example – he said George FreemanUK Department of Science Innovation and Technology Minister – We are supporting such exciting research as, for the first time in over 50 years, we are preparing to see man return to the Moon and Rolls Royce will lead the way to new sources of energy on the lunar base”.
Rolls Royce already uses nuclear power to deliver energy to submarines in the ocean floorbut the challenge now is to bring a microreactor to the Moon, smaller and lighter than other energy sources, as early as 2029. For this reason, the multinational will collaborate with other centers of excellence in nuclear research over the next two years Oxford, Bangor, Brighton and Sheffield Universities. “Funding from the UK Space Agency, and collaboration with the best British institutions specializing in space innovation and knowledge, are very important as they move us forward on the road to making the Micro Fission Reactor (SNR) a reality – commented Abi Clayton, Director of Future Programs at Rolls-Royce – and this will bring immense benefits both in space and on Earth”. The race has already begun with the Artemis program which should revise the footprint of NASA astronauts on the craters of the Moon in 2025, while China has announced that it wants to have a nuclear-powered lunar base ready by 2028. We are no longer at the cold war but, on the Moon as on Earth, nuclear power is the British government’s response to the energy crisis that is forcing the British (and many other countries around the world) to make difficult choices to heat their homes and meet their electricity needs.