The initiative was announced today at the launch of Imperial College London's Energy Futures Lab, which aims to play a major role in setting the energy agenda over the next 20 to 50 years.
Proponents see nuclear power as an increasingly attractive option for combating climate change because it is a low carbon alternative to burning fossil fuels. The Imperial College-led initiative will examine issues such as how nuclear reactor systems function, how reactors are monitored and how reactor waste can be dealt with.
The researchers hope that the four-year project will help increase the acceptability of nuclear power as an alternative source of energy and maintain the UK's expertise in nuclear technology.
Funded by Research Councils UK, it represents the single largest research council commitment to fission reactor research for more than thirty years. Imperial will be working in collaboration with the Universities of Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff and the Open University on the programme.
Professor Robin Grimes, the Principle Investigator and project co-ordinator at Imperial, said: "Having neglected nuclear reactor science and technology for twenty years, it is now clear that a broad research programme is necessary if we are to be in position to underpin a new reactor based generating capacity. Nuclear power is clearly a route to achieving the UK's commitment to reducing its carbon emissions under the Kyoto accord.
"We also intend that our programme will begin to address the acute shortage of people with the science and engineering background necessary to pursue a career related to the generation of electricity from nuclear reactors," he added.
Professor Julia King, Principal of the Faculty of Engineering, said: "We are excited that Imperial is leading this important initiative. The award reinforces Imperial's position as a leading player in a broad range of advanced energy technologies.
"The initiative reverses the trend towards decline in nuclear research, at a critical time for UK energy policy. It also enables us to help train a new generation of engineers in nuclear power and their skills will be essential for the future of the industry," she added.
Keeping the Nuclear Option Open is administered through EPSRC.