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Update on the status of Britain’s Rolls Royce Small Nuclear Reactor project

Safe Energy E-Journal No. 93 February 2022Rolls Royce’s Small Modular Reactors On 9th November the Government announced that it would back the Rolls-Royce Small Modular Reactor with £210m in funding. Matched by private sector funding of over £250 million, this investment will be used to further develop the SMR design and start the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process. (1)   

  This was followed in December by an announcement the Qatar Investment Authority will pour £85m into its Small Modular Reactor (SMR) programme, which now has total funding of £490m – enough for RR to start scouting sites for factories to supply parts to build SMRs. (2) France’s wealthy Perrodo family, is also investing in the project. (3) RR hopes to see the first reactors supplying electricity within the next decade.

 Rolls-Royce is now seeking bids for a site for a factory to make parts for its small nuclear power plants. It has begun competition between English and Welsh regions. The industry consortium led by Rolls-Royce has sent letters to several regional development agencies in England and the Government of Wales to ask them to sell a site. (4) The main factory will build some of the key components of the reactors which will then be assembled at sites around the UK. The letter from Rolls-Royce promised “high value, sustainable jobs which will produce products that will be exported globally for many decades to come”. It also made clear they were looking for possible “financial and non-financial support” from the host. (5)   

The consortium led by Rolls Royce, is planning to build 16 SMRs around the country by 2050, the first of which could be plugged into the grid by 2031. (6) Trawsfynydd and Wylfa are two sites expected to be in line for an SMR. (7) Moorside has also been mentioned and Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen wants Hartlepool to be on the list. (8) North Ayrshire Conservative councillor Tom Marshall has called for an SMR to be built at Hunterston. (9)

Jamie Stone, the Liberal-Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross wants Caithness to be considered as a possible site. Davie Alexander, the vice-chairman of the Dounreay Stakeholder Group and chairman of the Thurso and Wick Trades Union Council, would also like to see the county included as a possible location. (10) Stone is meeting with Rolls-Royce to discuss the matter. RollsRoyce welcomed the opportunity. (11)  

  Councillor Feargal Dalton, chair of the Scottish Forum of the NFLA urged Jaime Stone to think again. Given the good news on renewables, Councillor Dalton was shocked to hear that Stone has invited Rolls Royce for talks on locating a new reactor for Caithness. 

“There is clearly no need, and almost no public support, for new nuclear in Scotland, and we need to tackle climate change now. The Rolls Royce technology is unproven, and civil nuclear projects continue to be notorious for being delivered years late or at an eye-wateringly inflated cost and there is no guarantee that the project will not eventually be cancelled because it took too long or cost too much.” (12)

 In November Rolls Royce submitted its 470 MWe SMR design for entry to the UK’s Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process. (13) But this won’t formally begin until the government has assessed the    company’s capability and capacity to successfully enter the GDA process. This could take up to 4 months. The GDA process, once it begins, will take 4 or 5 years. (14) 

The Government claims that SMRs have the potential to be less expensive to build than traditional nuclear power plants because of their smaller size, and because the 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. But the reason why existing reactors are large is precisely to derive economies of scale: why smaller reactors should be more economic is problematic. Nuclear proponents allege that assembly-line technology will be used in reactor construction but this has yet to be shown in practice anywhere in the world

  Some say that SMRs are little more than wishful thinking. For example, Professor MV Ramana ‒ Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia – states:

 “SMR proponents argue that they can make up for the lost economies of scale by savings through mass manufacture in factories and resultant learning. But, to achieve such savings, these reactors have to be manufactured by the thousands, even under very optimistic assumptions about rates of learning.” (15)  

  The Rolls Royce SMR design is not exactly small at 470 MWe. It is proposing to build 16 reactors at an expected cost around £1.8bn – £2.2bn and producing power at £40-60/MWh over 60 yrs. (16)

 As well as the Government funding, Rolls-Royce has been backed by a consortium of private investors. The creation of the Rolls-Royce Small Modular Reactor (SMR) business was announced following a £195m cash injection from BNF Resources, and Exelon Generation to fund the plans over the next three years. (17) 

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February 19, 2022 - Posted by | business and costs, politics, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK

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