X-Energy UK Holdings, a wholly-owned subsidiary of US-based X-energy Reactor Company and Cavendish Nuclear, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Babcock International have been awarded funding from the UK Government’s Future Nuclear Enabling Fund (FNEF) to further the development of their plans to deploy Xe-100 advanced modular reactors (AMRs) in the UK. The government’s £3.34m ($4.23m) will be matched by X-energy for a total programme of £6.68m. The funds will be used to develop UK-specific deployment plans including an assessment of domestic manufacturing and supply chain opportunities, constructability, modularisation studies, and fuel management.

The Xe-100 is a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor with a thermal output of 200 MWt or an electrical output of 80 MWe. It can be scaled into a four-pack 320 MWe power plant, fuelled by the company's proprietary TRISO-X tri-structural isotropic particle fuel. The Xe-100 evolved from both the UK’s Dragon reactor at Winfrith in Dorset and the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project in South Africa. X-energy was selected by the US Department of Energy (DOE) in 2020 to receive up to $1.2bn in matching funds under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to develop, license, build, and demonstrate an operational advanced reactor and fuel fabrication facility by the end of the decade. X-Energy has since completed the reactor engineering and basic design and is developing a fuel fabrication facility in Oak Ridge in Tennessee.

X-energy and Cavendish Nuclear are proposing to develop a multi-billion pound 12-reactor plant at Hartlepool, to be ready by the early 2030s. The companies plan to build a fleet of up to 40 of the advanced small modular Xe-100 reactors in the UK, creating thousands of high-quality jobs in construction and operations. This would provide 3,200 MW of electricity, enough power for 6 million homes, or 8,000 MW of versatile high temperature heat and steam to support zero-carbon manufacturing and industrial processes.

X-energy and Cavendish also announced a partnership with the UK Kier Group to support constructability and supply chain analyses. The UK’s Sheffield Forgemasters and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC) ae also supporting X-energy and Cavendish in completing the scope outlined in their FNEF proposal. The goal is for 80% of the value of the Xe-100 projects to flow to UK firms. Last year X-energy and Cavendish signed a memorandum of understanding with Glasgow-based gas circulator manufacturer Howden. They will also work with Nuclear Waste Services to review the approach to spent fuel management. The companies plan to engage with the UK nuclear regulators to evaluate approaches to licensing the Xe-100 AMR. The design is already progressing through initial assessments by nuclear regulators in Canada and the United States.

“We are backing innovation in nuclear – from building large-scale plants better to encouraging new advanced technologies – to achieve our ambition for a quarter of our electricity to come from nuclear power by 2050,” Minister for Nuclear & Renewables Andrew Bowie said. “This funding supports the next step in the development of advanced modular reactors and shows our commitment to keeping the UK at the forefront of nuclear technology.”

The FNEF is intended for potential nuclear projects with mature technologies that could be in a position to take a Final Investment Decision (FID) within the next parliament. It aims to help industry reduce project risks, so they are better positioned for future investment decisions.

Image: The Xe-100 reactor design (courtesy of X-energy)