UK engineering firm Rolls-Royce aims to commission small modular reactors in the UK by 2029, the organisation's chief technology officer Paul Stein told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today Programme on 24 January.
Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium including Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear AMRC, Rolls-Royce, Wood and The Welding Institute.
"Our plan is to get energy on the grid in 2029," Stein said, noting that eventually 10-15 units could be rolled out in the UK.
Potential locations for SMRs are existing nuclear sites, he said, adding there are two sites in Wales and one in northwest England.
The consortium is also looking at potential export opportunities. The export market for SMRs is estimated at £250 billion ($328 billion), so it could be a "huge industry" according to Stein.
Investing in design
In November 2019, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced it was providing initial match funding of £18 million to enable the UK consortium to develop its reactor design further.
Stein said the consortium has already received letters of intent from foreign governments and private equity firms.
"The consortium members themselves are so convinced that this is a solid business case that we’re putting our own money into it."
"And private equity, which doesn't tend to invest in things on a whim, is also now approaching us and we already have letters of intent," he told the BBC.
The consortium has calculated the cost of a 440MWe power station at about £1.75 billion, enabling electricity to be sold at approximately £60/MWh (this compares with the strike price of £89.50/MWh agreed for Hinkley Point C).
These calculations have already been taken through a Treasury accreditation process and been "scrutinised" by the Royal Academy of Engineering, Stein said.
Ultimately the goal is to drive the cost down below £60/MWh through advanced manufacturing processes, such as digital welding and robotic assembly processes.
Stein suggested the SMR programme could create 40,000 jobs for the UK, given the home market and the exports. These would be spread around the country, repurposing some industrial areas and reviving parts of the nuclear industry.
Photo: The 440MWe Rolls-Royce SMR (Credit: Rolls-Royce)