Rolls Royce ‘small modular’ nuclear plant wins £210M government investment

The government has announced funding of £210 million for Rolls-Royce to develop new nuclear technology – part of the £385 million Advanced Nuclear Fund announced last year in the 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. Rolls-Royce Group, BNF Resources UK Limited and Exelon Generation will invest £195 million in te technology across a period of around three years.
Exelon Generation operates 21 nuclear reactors at 14 sites in the USA. BNF Resources is described as “part of a family office with extensive investments in the energy space”.
The funding will allow the company to take forward phase 2 of the Low-Cost Nuclear project to further develop a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) design and take it through the regulatory process. The grant follows £18 million invested in November 2019, which the government says has already delivered significant development of the initial design.
The government says SMRs have the potential to be less expensive to build than traditional nuclear power plants because of their smaller size. Although they have been described as ‘mini’ the Rolls Royce design actually has a unit capacity of 470MW – smaller than the 1600MWe EPR, but similar to the recently closed plant at Wylfa (the largest of the UK’s old Magnox fleet). It is also a similar size to the ‘workhorse’ nuclear power plant used in eastern Europe for many years, the so-called VVER440, of which over 30 were built in the USSR and Eastern Europe. The largest of the AGR fleet closing over the next few years has a unit capacity of 680MW.
The company says a single Rolls-Royce SMR power station will occupy the footprint of two football pitches.
In addition, SMRs’ modular nature allows parts to be produced in factories, which has cost advantages in speed of production and quality control. This has long been a goal of nuclear new-build and in fact was an original intention of the EPR design under construction at Hinkley Point C (and planned for Sizewell C). At Hinkley Point EDF addressed weather-related quality issues that arose during construction of similar plants by creating a weather-proof bunker to build large items in factory-type conditions on site. Rolls Royce says 90% 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. It says much of the venture’s investment is expected to be focused in the North of the UK, where there is significant existing nuclear expertise.
Rolls Royce said the SMR business would continue to seek further investment, but will “proceed rapidly” with parallel delivery activities, including entry to the UK Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process for the reactor technology and identifying sites for the factories which will manufacture the modules that enable on-site assembly of the power plants.
The news cames as Parliament considers the Nuclear Energy Financing Bill which establishes a new financing model for nuclear projects, known as the Regulated Asset Base (RAB), which would also set up government investment of £1.7 billion to bring at least one large-scale nuclear project to a final investment decision.
In addition, a £120 million Future Nuclear Enabling Fund will provide targeted support towards further nuclear projects.Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “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.”