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US nuclear group seeks partners for UK small modular reactor programme

06 October 2015

US nuclear technology company NuScale has said it is seeking partners to roll out 50MW pressurised water reactors in the UK by the mid-2020s. So-called ‘small modular reactor’ (SMR) technology is seen by some as a cheaper counterbalance to the very expensive large plants planned by groups such as EDF Energy at Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk.

NuScale's SMR reactor - Image: NuScale
NuScale's SMR reactor - Image: NuScale

The company won a five-year cost-sharing award of $217million from the US Department of Energy and aims to have its first 50MW reactor unit in service in 2023 in Idaho for Utah Association of Municipal Power Systems.

SMR technology is seen by some in the nuclear sector as attractive because, rather than being built up from enormous components that require specialist facilities, they could be made in a more conventional factory much more cheaply and transported complete to the required site.

NuScale’s reactor modules, which are passively-cooled pressurised water reactors somewhat similar to the reactors used in nuclear submarines, are 20m tall by 3m in diameter, and use no pumps, with coolant circulated only by convection. They can be combined in a single power station with up to 12 other modules, which would give a total thermal capacity of 600MW.
These would still be smaller than the proposed 1000MW+ units such as Hinkley which already have the go-ahead to be built in the UK.

NuScale chief executive Hohn Hopkins said: “We want to replicate (our US) timetable in the UK.  We’re scoping out possible sites and our smaller footprint means we can look beyond the usual suspects. Our technology is smaller, scalable, easier to finance, quicker to build and easier to mix with renewables."

NuScale already has UK links. It is majority owned by the process contractor Fluor, which is active in the UK with headquarters in Hampshire. It has worked with the National Nuclear Laboratory on fuel design and has collaborated with Rolls-Royce, which builds and maintains the Royal Navy’s submarine reactors.

In order to obtain authorisation to deploy SMR in the UK, NuScale needs a prospective reactor purchaser and an identified site: these are prerequisites for the HSE’s Generic Design Assessment certification process, which takes around three years to complete. Currently two reactor designs have GDA  approval: Areva’s EPR and Westinghouse’s AP1000; Hitachi’s advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR) is in the middle of the process.

"SMRs will happen in the UK and much sooner than people think," said Hopkins.


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