Rolls-Royce announced on 1 February that it had awarded a contract to the UK Nuclear AMRC to develop a module demonstrator for its UK Small Modular Reactor (SMR). The project aims to develop an understanding of modules and underpin the early stage design principles that are pertinent to deliver cost and programme certainty for the manufacture, construction and operation of Rolls-Royce's UK SMR power plants.
Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium of UK companies to design a small modular reactor power station to deliver low cost, low carbon energy to help the UK meet its carbon commitments. Rolls-Royce said the 440MWe UK SMR could produce reliable energy for as little as £60 per megawatt hour, which would be competitive with wind and solar while its modular construction “can avoid the complexities, delays and overspends often associated with large infrastructure projects”.
“Modular design is central to our UK SMR Power Station, not only for the reactor components but for the construction of the entire plant," said Matt Blake, Chief Engineer for the SMR. The UK SMR uses road-transportable modules that are completed in factories and transported for direct ‘plug and play’ installation on site, Blake added. "This allows a fleet of reactors to be built and operated with "much greater levels of cost certainty and operational efficiency," he said.
The modules will be made at AMRC's modular manufacturing research facility, which opened at Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead site in March 2017. Nuclear AMRC said it would work the UK SMR consortium – which includes Rolls-Royce, ARUP, Laing O’Rourke, Nuvia and AMEC Foster Wheeler – to explore both physical and digital aspects of modularisation, using technologies that have the potential to deliver significant savings in the manufacture, assembly and operation of SMRs. "This is a fantastic project for our new modular manufacturing research facility in Birkenhead, where we are developing and evaluating a range of modularisation techniques which could be used to build a new fleet of SMRs," said Johnny Stephenson, Nuclear AMRC business development manager.
A crucial technology for the UK?
A report by the Policy Exchange published on 25 January said SMRs could be "a crucial technology" in efforts to decarbonise the UK's energy system. The report, “Small modular reactors: The next big thing in energy?”, details how government policy can lay the groundwork for their development and deployment. "Decarbonising our existing electricity system with 100% renewable energy would be possible, but unnecessarily expensive and perhaps unsustainable. The intermittent nature of solar and wind would mean that large amounts of under-utilised backup capacity would be required at great expense to the consumer/taxpayer," the report says. It adds: "It is clear that in meeting our low-carbon energy needs that nuclear power should play a crucial role."
The UK government launched the first phase of an SMR competition in 2016 to identify the best value SMR design for the UK. Expressions of interest were received from a nuclear equipment manufacturers including Rolls-Royce, NuScale Power, GE-Hitachi and China General Nuclear Power Corp. and other organisations. The Policy Exchange report suggested that the government should choose "at least one" Generation III+ SMR to take forward through the detailed design phase to demonstration. "The metrics on which to judge the best SMR should be the simplicity of design, the potential for cost reductions and the speed of deployment," the report said.
The Policy Exchange is an educational charity which seeks to develop and promote new policy ideas which deliver better public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy. Jenifer Baxter, head of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said the Policy Exchange report “demonstrates the continuing interest in developing SMRs”. She added: There is the potential for first of a kind demonstration sites throughout the UK at existing and decommissioned nuclear sites." Baxter also said that as the UK prepares to leave Euratom, SMRs could provide the UK with "significant opportunities to secure the country's future nuclear industry post-Brexit."
Photo: Artists impression of a Rolls-Royce SMR