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 commissioned the UK’s Teesside University to study the potential regional economic benefits of a multi-billion pound NPP project in Hartlepool. The assessment of the socio-economic opportunities will include jobs, skills, supply chain contracts, and investment. Project leader will be Teesside University’s Professor of Public Policy Matthew Cotton.

Professor Cotton has published works relating to new technologies, policies and practices in the fields of energy, climate change, waste management and public health. “A core principle of our research is to work with communities to address regional disparities and drive social impact for regions across the world,” he said. “The proposed nuclear power plant at Hartlepool represents a massive capital investment in the Tees Valley and it is vital to understand what that impact will look like.

He added: “By analysing how a project of this scope and scale will manifest itself, we will be able to determine the different socio-economic considerations, issues and risk factors for Hartlepool and surrounding regions. In doing so, we will be able to determine the best course of action in order to take full advantage of the benefits and mitigate any impacts for the region.”

The work is part of a £6.68m ($8.5m) programme funded by X-energy, and by the UK Government which awarded the firms £3.34m in April from the Department of Energy Security & Net Zero’s Future Nuclear Enabling Fund. X-energy is proposing to build its Xe-100 advanced modular reactor plant by the early 2030s, next to Hartlepool’s existing NPP which is scheduled to close by 2026.

X-energy and Cavendish in 2023 identified Hartlepool as a preferred location for construction of small modular reactors (SMRs) in the UK. The companies applied to the Future Nuclear Enabling Fund to support a Generic Design Assessment of the Xe-100 SMR and supply chain development activities for the first project.

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.

Early estimates indicate a 12-reactor multi-billion-pound X-energy project at Hartlepool would directly employ hundreds of people during operation with a peak construction workforce of several thousand. UK Minister for Nuclear & Renewables, Andrew Bowie, said: “New nuclear projects could provide jobs and investment for local communities across the UK, and we look forward to seeing the benefits of a potential new nuclear plant in Hartlepool.”

X-energy’s Vice President of Projects and UK market leader Carol Tansley said the NPP project represents a “fantastic economic and employment opportunity” and will contribute to energy security and decarbonisation. “We want to understand from the outset how best to help our potential host community and the surrounding area capitalise on the benefits it will bring. “Teesside University is ideally placed to help us. The team has huge experience of similar exercises in the past, and excellent links with the local community and business sector.”

According to Mick Gornall, Managing Director of Cavendish Nuclear a regional economy which hosts such a project can experience a rise in productivity and growth. “Creating supply chains and other infrastructure in local and neighbouring areas can permanently enhance economic capacity. Beyond Hartlepool, we estimate a national fleet roll out of 40 Xe-100s could bring around £20bn of investment into the UK.”

The multi-disciplinary study will use expertise from Teesside University International Business School and its School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law in various fields including public policy, economic regeneration, business and industry. It will include a review of available socio-economic data and engagement with local stakeholders including government officials, community leaders and sector experts. The study will also examine national impacts, including contributions to meeting the UK Government’s net zero targets. The assessment will begin immediately and complete later this year.