UK government awards funding for nuclear rail freight specialist

Britain’s specialist rail freight operator, Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS), has secured government funding to lead on the development of a new transport package which will support a new generation of nuclear reactors. The carrier is already the only operator certified to move nuclear materials around the UK by rail. Now, the company’s engineers are drawing on those years of experience to design the new transport package for the innovative form of fuel, which will be used in new nuclear developments including Small Modular Reactors (SMR).

The UK government is proposing to commission a fleet of next-generation Small Modular Reactors, as part of the country’s bid to reduce carbon emissions in the economy to net-zero. The fuel for these reactors, High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU), requires innovative transportation solutions to ensure it can be moved safely and securely to new reactors and, when operational, will generate carbon-free electricity across the UK. NTS will be the freight carrier with responsibility for moving the fuel around the country. Government funding of just over one million pounds (1.16 million euro) has been granted to help develop those transport systems.

Most powerful trains in the UK

The award has been made to NTS via the Nuclear Fuel Fund to drive the development of the project over a two-year period. The new package will be versatile to allow NTS to transport HALEU in multiple forms, such as powder or fuel elements. Maintaining radioactive security, in all situations, even the most unlikely and violent accidents, has been the stock-in-trade of Nuclear Transport Solutions for over five decades. “We’re thrilled with this announcement from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero”, said Seth Kybird, NTS’s CEO. “It’s a really exciting time to be in our industry and I’m proud of the part NTS is playing to provide the nuclear market with safe, secure and reliable transport solutions.”

NTS was originally incorporated as a government managed carrier, specifically tasked with moving nuclear fuels. Most characteristically, the company has been synonymous with the nuclear flask trains that move around the network – typically topped and tailed by a pair of locomotives to ensure complete reliability. The short one or two flask consists make these trains by far the highest power to weight ratio of any freight formation on the UK network.

Greater options for nuclear operators

The development of the nuclear power industry in the UK, including the go-ahead for new large reactors in the West Country (Hinkley Point) and Suffolk (Sizewell) and a planned site in Essex (Bradwell), means there will be plenty of work for the operator for decades to come. “We have the skills and experience to design a package which is safe, secure and efficient, delivering the best possible value for UK taxpayers”, said Kybird. “The design proposal is already under way and this new funding will help us move from concept to preliminary design and manufacturing guidance stage.”

The Nuclear Fuel Fund, from which this award was made, is intended to provide greater options for UK nuclear operators to use UK-produced fuel, as the country seeks to diversify its uranium and nuclear fuel production capacity away from Russia. NTS is part of the government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). Over the years, the carrier has diversified its portfolio, and formed the general freight operator Direct Rail Services, which carries goods for a variety of clients, most notably the supermarket chain Tesco, for whom they convey daily intermodal trains between distribution centres in the English Midlands, to central Scotland and the Highlands.

Autor/a Simon Walton