Rolls-Royce unveils plans to build 16 mini nuclear plants in the UK

Pictured: An artist's impression of one of the plants

The engineering giant is part of the UK’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Consortium, along with the likes of BAM Nuttall, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke and the National Nuclear Laboratory.

In a statement this week, the Consortium said it could have the 16 reactors up and running by the end of 2025 if the Government provides funding and planning permission is granted as a matter of urgency. This move would create 6,000 jobs.

Each of the power stations would cost £2bn to deliver provide up to 440MW of capacity. The Consortium has said that they could be online for 60 years.

The Consortium confirmed in the statement that it has signed agreements with Exelon Generation in the US and CEZ in the Czech Republic to deliver key infrastructure.

The UK Government is reportedly planning to allocate at least £1.5bn from central coffers to the scheme as part of Boris Johnson’s ten-point plan for the green recovery. He began unveiling the plan last month but announcements were paused as new lockdown measures were developed and implemented. Announcements are expected to begin again next week.

In its manifesto for the 2019 General Election, the Conservative Party threw its weight behind nuclear fusion, pledging £220m to the sector and setting a 2040 target to bring at least one plant online. This proved controversial given that the related technologies are in their relevant infancy.

Nuclear gap

Six of the UK’s nuclear plants are planning to go offline by 2030. While some are reaching the natural end of their working life, others have reported increased costs in recent years and are predicting further hikes without government support.

At the same time, progress on Hinkley Point in Somerset has been stalled once again due to Covid-19.

Proponents of nuclear power have warned that this will leave a “gap” in low-carbon power generation – particularly given that the UK’s electricity demand is set to rise over the coming decades.

In his keynote speech at edie’s Net-Zero Live on Wednesday (11 November), Conservative MP Bim Afomali, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group (PRASEG), said the Group is urging the Government to “throw its weight” behind nuclear in the same way it has supported offshore wind.

Doing so, he argued, would maintain energy security and reduce costs as the UK brings more renewables online and strives to get to a net-zero energy sector ahead of the 2050 deadline.

But green groups including Greenpeace have argued that the risk of radioactive waste releases and weapons proliferation should not be ignored and that the Government would be better off investing in green hydrogen and geothermal power.

Sarah George

Comments (2)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    While I can agree partly with Greenpeace that we should be investing more in Geothermal, Hydro, Tidal and heck why not even Hydrogen (even with my massive reservations about that gas) we still need a reliable source of constant power, the so called baseload, that will keep the lights on at night when the wind isn’t blowing.

    While yes there is still a risk with these SMRs one just has to look at where the expertise is with this kind of technology. The US Navy have been using them successfully and safely for decades in their nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers and ships. With that kind of knowledge base and security/safety protocols these could be the mid term solution to the energy storage problem.

  2. David Dundas says:

    There is no way that renewables of solar, wind, tidal, hydro can possibly be ramped up to meet the UK’s primary energy demand by 2050 as we just don’t have enough land and sea. In 2019 their combined power was around 10% of the UK’s primary energy in 2016 of 2,226 TWh (BEIS data) so nuclear power must be used to bridge the gap. And the alternative to high pressure water reactors can be molten salt reactors that are far less expensive as they do not work under high pressure and require an expensive containment building. Small modular reactors like those developed by Rolls-Royce can be mass produced in a factory and taken to site by heavy road transport and will be very useful for retrofitting our gas power stations, saving the cost of steam turbines, generators and electrical distribution equipment already installed. Alternative fissile material such as Thorium can power a nuclear reactor without producing radio-active waste with very long half-lives as Uranium 235 does, which should keep Greenpeace happy.

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