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Mini nuclear reactor firms battle it out in UK for approval and government support

Rolls-Royce rivals gear up for mini-nuke race as power system creaks.
Nuclear power is seen as essential to protect Britain from future energy
shocks. Rolls Royce has long been at the vanguard of Britain’s nuclear
industry, with more than half of the UK’s £385m fund to support advanced
projects in the field allocated to Rolls’s mini-nukes programme.

But the
company’s dominance is now being challenged by a new breed of scrappy
start-ups who believe their technology could make Britain a world leader in
nuclear power. “You should have another viable alternative that you’re
supporting,” says Rick Springman, an executive at US mini-nuke company
Holtec. “When you invest in stocks, do you put all your money in one

Nuclear power is seen as central to the UK’s goal of meeting
its Net Zero targets, improving energy security and reducing its reliance
on Russian oil. Last month, Rolls said its small modular reactors (SMRs),
or so-called mini-nukes, could supply a fifth of the UK’s total
electricity capacity to homes across England and Wales by the end of the
decade. The reactors use existing nuclear technology on a smaller scale
than traditional power plants. Each can generate about 470MW of power and
last at least 60 years. The Government has picked eight sites for new
nuclear projects including Sellafield in Cumbria and Bradwell, Essex, to
place new projects. Other sites such as Trawsfynydd in the Snowdonia
national park are also being considered. Rolls-Royce has chosen four it
would like to build on, earmarked for their existing infrastructure and
connections to the grid.

Rivals want access to these initial sites to prove
their power stations work. Proof that they can power the grid in the UK
could open up opportunities to launch projects abroad. They believe their
technology offers advantages.

London-based Newcleo, for instance, wants to
use some of the UK’s plutonium stockpile for fuel and Last Energy’s
design aims to use more off-the-shelf components, offering a speedier
build. Meanwhile, Holtec is developing a reactor which can be cooled in an
emergency without external power. While Rolls is planning 470MW reactors,
equivalent to more than 150 onshore wind turbines, Holtec plans 160MW
units. Holtec’s reactor could share a site with Rolls-Royce or another

The forthcoming Hinkley Point C, with power of 3.2GW, is on a
160 hectare site. By comparison, a single Holtec reactor will occupy six
hectares, or about 10 football pitches. The push for approvals comes as
deals elsewhere are signed elsewhere. GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy signed a
deal last year with Canada’s Ontario Power Generation to deliver one of
its BWRX-300 units which could be online as early as 2028. Deals for GE to
build 10 more in Poland followed weeks later. In February, French President
Emmanuel Macron agreed €1bn of funding for EDF’s Nuward SMR which could
be generating electricity by 2030.

Last Energy wrote to the Parliamentary
committee to say that “excessive Government funding for early stage
development activities” can crowd out “entrants and innovation,” and
that having a preferred supplier – a status Rolls-Royce enjoys in the UK –
may limit the field.

 Telegraph 12th Dec 2022


December 13, 2022 - Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK

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