Britain’s quasi-autonomous national research and development agency UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) confirmed on Tuesday that it had released £18-million in funding to a British industrial consortium developing a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR). The consortium, which has been working on the preliminary design of the SMR for four years, is itself matching this investment.
The consortium is led by Rolls-Royce, which is responsible for the design, construction and support of the small nuclear power plants that power Britain’s atomic submarines. The other partners are Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttal, Laing O’Rourke, the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, the National Nuclear Laboratory, The Welding Institute and Wood.
“Tackling climate change requires collaboration across industries and government to find effective, affordable and sustainable ways of achieving net zero [carbon emissions] by 2050,” highlighted Rolls-Royce chief technology officer Paul Stein. “The consortium’s work with the government shows that action is being taken to decarbonise our economy and meet our society’s vital and growing power needs. This is a very positive step forward to this next phase of the programme.”
The joint investment by the government and the consortium will allow the programme to move forward and develop the opportunities it presents, as well as preparing it for the UK nuclear regulator’s Generic Design Assessment process. It will further allow final decisions to be made regarding which innovations to develop and realise. Moreover, it will provide the confidence that supply chain companies need to start their preparations for this SMR programme.
The concept is that the components for the SMRs would be manufactured in sections in factories across the UK. They would then be taken to their construction sites where they would be quickly assembled within weatherproof canopies. This approach would allow incremental efficiency savings through the use of standardised and streamlined manufacturing methods for the components. It would also reduce costs by preventing weather disrupting the assembly process. The SMRs would be assembled at existing nuclear sites.
Each SMR would generate 440 MW of electricity (enough to power a city with a population of 750 000) and would have an operational life of 60 years. The aim is to achieve a target price of £1.8-billion per SMR power station after five have been built. The first is hoped to come into operation in the early 2030s. The proposed SMR programme could generate some £52-billion in value for the British economy.