SMR competition heats up in the UK

22 December 2022

Five major companies have made key announcements on their plans to advance small modular reactor (SMR) deployment in the UK. While Rolls-Royce SMR shortlisted three sites for a factory to produce component for its planned SMR; Balfour Beatty and Holtec with Hyundai agreed to support plans for the construction of Holtec’s SMR-160; and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) submitted a Generic Design Assessment (GDA) application for its BWRX-300 SMR to the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The three sites shortlisted by Rolls-Royce for its heavy pressure vessels (HPV) factory are: The International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) in Sunderland and South Tyneside (northeast England); Teesworks in Teesside (northeast England); and Gateway in Deeside (Wales). In July, Rolls-Royce SMR had named six potential locations for the factory, selected from more than 100 submissions from local enterprise partnerships and development agencies.

Rolls-Royce SMR CEO Tom Samson, said this would be the first of at least three factories and will manufacture and assemble large and most complex components for a fleet of SMRs. He added: “To ensure commercial processes move in parallel, negotiations will be initiated when Rolls-Royce SMR has entered formal discussions on deployment with the Government.”

The GBP100-200 million ($121-242m) factory is expected to cover 23,000 square metres and to create more than 200 permanent jobs. The other two factories will manufacture civils modules and mechanical electrical and plumbing (MEP) modules for transportation to SMR sites and assembly.

The Rolls-Royce SMR design was accepted for GDA review in March after which BEIS asking the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the environment regulators for England and Wales to begin the process. It will have the capacity to generate 470MWe and will provide consistent baseload generation for at least 60 years. Rolls-Royce SMR aims to deploy multiple units at various sites totalling around 15GWe. The SMR is fully modularised with the reactor, some 16 by 4 metres being capable of transportation by road, rail or sea. Targeting a 500-day modular build, the firm says this concept minimises the onsite time and effort required to construct and build the plant, with about 90% of manufacturing and assembly activities carried out in factory conditions.

In November, Rolls-Royce SMR announced that a siting assessment review had identified a range of existing NPP sites in the UK as possible hosts for its SMRs, with four sites owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) prioritised. These were: Trawsfynydd (also requiring agreement with Cwmni Egino – Welsh Government); Sellafield (NDA land availability to be confirmed); Wylfa - South and Oldbury - North (both requiring agreement with Horizon Nuclear Power). Rolls-Royce identified four other sites which needed further investigation.

Meanwhile, Balfour Beatty has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Holtec Britain, a subsidiary of US-based Holtec International, to support “the planning advancement for the construction of Holtec’s SMR-160 pressurised light-water reactors in the UK”. Balfour Beatty will act as the main UK construction partner in collaboration with Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co Ltd (Hyundai E&C).

In October, Holtec International and Hyundai E&C signed an agreement to launch an accelerated programme to complete the balance of plant design of the remaining systems and structures for the SMR-160 advanced small modular reactor (SMR). The SMR-160 is a pressurised light-water reactor, generating 160MWe (525MWt) using low-enriched uranium fuel, with flexibility to produce process heat for industrial applications and hydrogen production.

Holtec International plans to submit a GDA application for the SMR-160 in 2023 with the aim of starting construction of the first UK unit in 2028. Holtec in November applied to BEIS for funding support for the GDA. The company said it intends to deploy 32 SMR-160s – representing a total capacity of 5,100 MWe – in serial production by 2050 to bring “reliable and affordable electricity and heat to UK households, businesses, and industrial users”.

Holtec has also joined a consortium with 15 major companies to establish the Moorside Clean Energy Hub in North West England. This includes a number of nuclear projects at Moorside, including a new UK-EPR pressurised water reactor together with “potentially a clutch of SMRs and other innovative technologies”.

Holtec said that, under the agreement with Balfour and Hyundai E&C “the parties will develop the division of responsibilities for procurement, construction, and commissioning of SMR-160 plants in the UK in accordance with UK regulatory and industrial practices and with inclusion of UK suppliers”. They will also “jointly develop a cost estimate for deployment of the SMR-160 in the UK based on Holtec’s standard design developed for the US Market, while waiting for the UK Government to determine the process for site selection”.

Holtec added that it has identified three potential UK sites with existing NPPs “suitable for hosting the first wave of Holtec SMR-160s, at Trawsfynydd in Wales and Heysham and Oldbury in England”. Holtec Britain Director Gareth Thomas noted: “We are advancing project delivery plans with our UK Team based on the information available for these sites and our corporate office committed to match funding the GDA with BEIS. Our GDA application provides incredible value for government’s money considering that SMR-160’s development has been essentially funded by Holtec for well over a decade and the requested governmental support is only for “gap funding” to complete the GDA process.”

Another contender for the UK’s first SMR is North Carolina-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) which announced submission of a GDA entry application for the BWRX-300 SMR to BEIS. The BWRX-300 is a 300MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that leverages the design and licensing basis of GEH's ESBWR boiling water reactor. It is currently undergoing a pre-licensing Vendor Design Review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).   

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has selected the BWRX-300 for potential deployment in Canada as early as 2028 and recently submitted its licence to construct application for the Darlington site to the CNSC. SaskPower and the US Tennessee Valley Authority have also selected the BWRX-300 for potential deployment. In Poland, ORLEN Synthos Green Energy (OSGE) started the pre-licensing process by applying to the National Atomic Energy Agency for assessment of the BWRX-300. 

Sean Sexstone, GEH Executive Vice President, Advanced Nuclear noted that the regulatory agencies in Canada and the US are collaborating on their licensing review of the BWRX-300. “Through the GDA process we look forward to engaging UK regulators and enabling collaboration with their global counterparts,” he said.

GEH said it was supported in preparation of the GDA entry application by Jacobs UK, which has supported licensing applications for new nuclear power plant projects in the UK since 2007. In September, GEH and the The UK’s Sheffield Forgemasters agreed to cooperate in support of the potential deployment of the BWRX-300 in the UK. They agreed to discuss how the existing and future capabilities of Sheffield Forgemasters could help meet the potential demands of BWRX-300 deployment.

In December 2021, Rolls-Royce SMR also signed a GBP3.7m contract with Sheffield Forgemasters to enable the first development forgings to be manufactured to support the deployment of Rolls-Royce SMRs. The race is clearly on. It remains to be seen who will be the winner.

Image: Kingmoor Park in Carlisle has made it to the shortlist of sites which could be set to host a Rolls-Royce SMR factory

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