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UK government backs new small nuclear technology with £210 million

09 November 2021

The UK government announced £210 million of new funding on November 9 to go towards the next steps in designing Rolls-Royce’s small modular reactors (SMR). The funding has been matched by private sector funding of over £250 million which will take the low-cost nuclear project into phase 2 of the design phase and through the regulatory processes to assess suitability of potential deployment in the UK.

Image: Rolls-Royce
Image: Rolls-Royce

Announcing its funding, the UK government said that new nuclear has a crucial role to play in providing reliable, affordable, low carbon energy as Britain works to reduce its dependency on volatile fossil fuels and exposure to global gas price spikes.

SMRs have the potential to be less expensive to build than traditional nuclear power plants because of their smaller size. Their modular nature of the components offers the potential for parts to be produced in dedicated factories and shipped by road to site – reducing construction time and cost. Rolls-Royce estimates that each Small Modular Reactor could be capable of powering 1 million homes.

Rolls-Royce SMR said the funding means the business, which will continue to seek further investment, will now proceed rapidly with a range of parallel delivery activities, including entry to the UK Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process and identifying sites for the factories which will manufacture the modules that enable on-site assembly of the power plants. Discussions will also continue with the UK government on identifying the delivery models that will enable long-term investment in the net-zero enabling technology. Rolls-Royce SMR is engaging with export customers across many continents who need this technology to meet their own net zero commitments, it added.

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the UK to deploy more low carbon energy than ever before and ensure greater energy independence. Small modular reactors offer exciting opportunities to cut costs and build more quickly, ensuring we can bring clean electricity to people’s homes and cut our already-dwindling use of volatile fossil fuels even further.

“In working with Rolls Royce, we are proud to back the largest engineering collaboration the UK has ever seen - uniting some of the most respected and innovating organisations on the planet. Not only can we maximise British content, create new intellectual property and reinvigorate supply chains, but also position our country as a global leader in innovative nuclear technologies we can potentially export elsewhere. By harnessing British engineering and ingenuity, we can double down on our plan to deploy more home-grown, affordable clean energy in this country.”

Warren East, Rolls-Royce CEO, said: “The SMR programme is one of the ways that Rolls-Royce is meeting the need to ensure the UK continues to develop innovative ways to tackle the global threat of climate change. With the Rolls-Royce SMR technology, we have developed a clean energy solution which can deliver cost competitive and scalable net zero power for multiple applications from grid and industrial electricity production to hydrogen and synthetic fuel manufacturing. The business could create up to 40,000 jobs, through UK deployment and export enabled growth. As a major shareholder in Rolls-Royce SMR, we will continue to support its path to successful deployment.”

The £210 million grant follows £18 million invested into the project by the UK government in November 2019, which has already delivered development of the initial design as part of phase one of the project.

Rolls-Royce SMR says it is using proven nuclear technology, coupled with a unique factory-made module manufacturing and on-site assembly system, to harness decades of British engineering, design and manufacturing knowhow. Nine-tenths of an individual Rolls-Royce SMR power plant will be built or assembled in factory conditions and around 80% could be delivered by a UK supply chain. Much of the venture’s investment is expected to be focused in the North of the UK, where there is significant existing nuclear expertise.

A single Rolls-Royce SMR power station will occupy the footprint of two football pitches and power approximately one million homes. It can support both on-grid electricity and a range of off-grid clean energy solutions, enabling the decarbonisation of industrial processes and the production of clean fuels, such as sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and green hydrogen, to support the energy transition in the wider heat and transportation sectors.


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