Rolls-Royce SMR has reportedly revised its plans to build two nuclear factories in the UK due ongoing delays in the government’s small modular reactor (SMR) design competition. In December 2023, six SMR designs were selected to progress to the next stage of a UK competition that forms a key part of government ambitions for up to a quarter of the country’s electricity to come from nuclear power by 2050. The designs chosen by Great British Nuclear – the government-backed body driving nuclear projects across the UK The winning bidders were EDF, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy International, Holtec Britain Limited, NuScale Power, Rolls-Royce SMR and Westinghouse Electric Company UK The contracts were expected to be awarded in spring 2024 but this has now been postponed to June 2024 at the earliest.

Rolls-Royce had planned two separate factories: one for heavy pressure vessels, critical components for reactors, and another for assembling the modular units of the SMRs. A shortlist for the pressure vessel factory included the International Advanced Manufacturing Park on the outskirts of Sunderland, as well as the Gateway industrial park in Deeside, Wales.

However, Rolls-Royce says it no longer has time to build it and make the first pressure vessels by the early 2030s when it had hoped to launch its first SMRs. Rolls-Royce will now buy its heavy pressure vessels from a third-party supplier. Plans for the second factory will still go ahead. A spokesman for Rolls-Royce SMR told the Daily Telegraph that the company had now “prioritised work on our modules assembly and test facility”. It added: “Our efforts are focused on identifying the best site to support our deployment at pace.”

The sites considered for the pressure vessel factory could now be shortlisted for the second plant, but no decision has yet been made. The company may revive plans for a heavy pressure vessel factory sometime in the future, provided that it manages to build up a robust pipeline of orders. A UK government spokesman said: “Our world leading SMR competition aims to be the fastest of its kind, helping secure billions in investment for the UK, meaning cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy in the long-term.”

The Rolls-Royce SMR design is one of the larger reactors destined for this market as a three loop PWR with an output of 470 MWe derived from 1,358 MWt. The Rolls-Royce SMR concept is centred on innovative modularisation of reliable and proven technology, allowing maximum use of the factory environment to combine standard components with advanced manufacturing techniques. The factory-built modularisation approach is expected to drastically reduce the amount of on-site construction while its compact footprint and modular design means it can be located alongside energy intensive industrial processes.

Rolls-Royce SMR, which was established in November 2021, suggests the unit will offer availability above 92% for 60 years supplying both on- and off-grid electricity as well supplying industrial applications and sectors such as the production of clean fuels. They add that their low-cost nuclear solution is expected to be competitive with renewable alternatives. The Rolls-Royce SMR design is currently progressing through Generic Design Assessment in the UK.

Image: Cutaway of the Rolls-Royce SMR design (courtesy of ONR)