Rolls Royce believes tens of thousands of “highly skilled, long-term jobs” could be created by the development of a new generation of mini-nuclear reactors. Harry Holt, head of Rolls-Royce’s nuclear business is quoted in the Telegraph as saying “The ‘Britishness’ of our proposal is very strong - we’re talking about high-value intellectual property being created here and the UK content is very high. This is not a case of British companies doing low-value work such as pouring the concrete for the building work.”
In March 2016 the government launched the first phase of a £250 million competition to identify the best-value SMR design for the country.
Rolls-Royce in the UK, which has been making small reactors for the UK’s Royal Navy submarine fleet for decades is designing a 220MW SMR that, at 16 metres in height and four metres in diameter, could be transported by truck, train or barge. The company heads what it says is the only British-led entrant in the Government’s small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear technology competition.
Small modular reactors are said to have many advantages over their larger counterparts, significantly they can be built in factories and assembled on-site. It is anticipated that such technology will require much less water for cooling than conventional reactors, so there is less of a need for them to be located by the sea or large rivers. They are easier to power up so could respond more readily to peaks in demand. They do produce much less power which consequentially means there must be more of them to generate sustainable energy.
A report from the Energy Technologies Institute in September suggests that with the appropriate level of government backing, the first small modular nuclear reactors could be operating in the UK by 2030.
Anurag Gupta, nuclear director at KPMG UK, says: “SMRs promise all the benefits of nuclear — low cost and green power — but without the significant cost and schedule overrun issues that have beset conventional large nuclear projects.”
Other companies vying with Rolls Royce for victory in the SMR competition include America’s NuScale Power, France’s EDF, and the Chinese nuclear company CNNC.
Image above: A graphic produced by the Oak Ridge laboratory showing an SMR being transported on a truck.