Rolls-Royce, the largest employer of nuclear engineers and scientists in the country, believes the UK will waste a great opportunity to become a leader in next-generation nuclear power unless progress is made with a government competition to build mini reactors. The firm heads up a consortium which comprises Amec Foster Wheeler, Arup, Nuvia and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre which is hoping to win UK government funding for its innovative plants, known as small modular reactors (SMRs)
Traditional large nuclear plants typically require large scale investment, often relying upon state support, but small modular reactors could be made in centralised manufacturing facilities and then transported to anywhere in the country or overseas, producing benefits of scale which would drive down costs. Rolls-Royce has devised a modular concept that allows for factory manufacture and speedy installation of the planned plants. The reactors are about the size of the O2 and could power a city the size of Leeds while creating as many as 40,000 jobs over the new build phase.
A competition was launched in early 2016 to find the best design for so-called Small Modular Reactors with the government committing to respond after the submission process ended in autumn last year. So far there has been no further communication. Rolls-Royce, one of the biggest names to submit a bid, says the competition is crucial for Britain's nuclear sector because the first country to licence a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) would set an international standard, giving those companies the chance to export their technology worldwide.
"Whoever moves first, globally, whoever gets a Small Modular Reactor up and running, licensed, commissioned, built, clearly has first mover advantage globally," Harry Holt, the president of nuclear at the British company, told news agency Reuters.
"A delay begins to erode any first mover advantage we might have had, so clearly it begins to put at risk the full scale of the opportunity we first envisaged."
Rolls-Royce believes a UK SMR programme has the potential to deliver energy security, jobs, sustainable value, a robust supply chain, exports and low carbon technology.
According to their research, a Rolls-Royce led UK SMR solution will deliver an estimated Gross Value Added (GVA) indirect contribution of £71bn to the UK economy with as many as 40,000 UK jobs created over the new build phase (2030 – 2050), with jobs split 60:40 between direct employment in the SMR Supply Chain and indirect employment in supporting areas.