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Rolls-Royce to install modular nuclear reactors in UK by 2029

24 January 2020

Rolls-Royce is planning to install and operate its small modular reactor (SMR) programme in the UK by 2029. The manufacturer told the BBC that its plan is to build between 10-15 SMRs on former nuclear sites in Cumbria and Wales by the end of the decade.

SMR plant artist's impression - Image: Rolls-Royce
SMR plant artist's impression - Image: Rolls-Royce

The SMRs would be around 1.5 acres in size, much smaller and cheaper than nuclear power stations such as Hinkley Point C. In July 2019, the UK government announced that it would commit £18 million ($22.4 million) in initial funding to support the development of the Rolls-Royce-led SMR programme. The consortium comprises Rolls-Royce, Assystem, SNC Lavalin/Atkins, Wood, Arup, Laing O’Rourke, BAM Nuttall, Siemens, National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and Nuclear AMRC.

Rolls-Royce’s announcement comes as a boost to the UK nuclear industry which has struggled to compete with renewables in terms of both cost and capacity. SMRs are seen as a cheaper alternative to major nuclear power stations as they can be mass manufactured and delivered in parts, meaning costs are more predictable. In September 2019, EDF announced that the construction of Hinkley Point C in south-western England would cost an extra £2.9 billion more than estimated, raising the total cost of the project to around £22 billion.

The BBC reports that Rolls-Royce will use digital welding methods, prefabricated parts, and robotic assembly to build SMRs in parts before shipping them to a site for construction. In order to overcome cost barriers, Rolls-Royce hopes to also sell its SMRs abroad.

The size of SMRs means that theoretically, every town could have its own reactor and because they will be built on pre-existing nuclear power plant sites, security issues can be avoided.

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