GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH – part of US-based GE Vernova) has been awarded a £33.6m ($42.6m) grant by the UK Future Nuclear Enabling Fund (FNEF) from the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ). UK Nuclear Minister Andrew Bowie said the biggest expansion of nuclear power for 70 years is underway in the UK “and small modular reactors (SMEs) are front and centre in this rapid revival”. He added that the funding for GE Hitachi “will help develop their design, putting us in an excellent position to become one of the first to deploy this game-changing tech”.

The BWRX-300 is a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that leverages the design and licensing basis of GEH’s ESBWR which has US Nuclear Regulatory Commission certification. As a result of design simplification, GEH claims the BWRX-300 will require significantly less capital cost per MW compared with other SMR designs. GEH says the BWRX-300 is being designed to reduce construction and operating costs below other nuclear power generation technologies. It will leverage a combination of existing fuel, plant simplifications, proven components as well as a design based on an already licensed reactor.

“We believe our BWRX-300 small modular reactor is an ideal solution for the UK’s decarbonisation and energy security goals, and we appreciate the UK Government making this FNEF grant available to help demonstrate this,” said GEH President & CEO Jay Wileman. “We have assembled a first-class team to deliver the BWRX-300 in the UK and this FNEF grant will help accelerate regulatory acceptance and its deployment readiness while we continue to develop a robust UK supply chain. We hope development of the BWRX-300 will be the next chapter in GE’s proud 130-year history of working in the UK.”

GEH’s FNEF application was supported by experienced UK team including Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke and Cavendish Nuclear along with Synthos Green Energy (SGE), an investor and developer from Poland. GEH is developing a UK supply chain which includes a memorandum of understanding with Sheffield Forgemasters for a potential supply agreement for UK-sourced steel forgings in support of the deployment of BWRX-300 SMRs.

In conjunction with the FNEF grant, GEH will enter the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process for the BWRX-300. The GDA process allows UK regulators to assess the standards of safety, security and environmental protection of new nuclear reactor designs. GEH will be supported in the GDA by Jacobs. In October it was announced that GEH has reached the next stage of the Great British Nuclear small modular reactor competition. GEH’s UK-based team is backed by SGE as an investor and developer.

In August 2023, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) completed two joint reports on the BWRX-300. Both reports supported CNSC’s ongoing review of Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG’s) application for a licence to construct a BWRX-300 and are part of the cooperative activities established in the BWRX-300 Charter by CNSC and NRC, under a memorandum of cooperation on advanced reactor and SMR technologies.

In July, the Province of Ontario had announced OPG to begin planning and licensing for the deployment of three additional BWRX-300 SMRs at the Darlington New Nuclear Project site – which would mean the delivery of four SMRs at the site. This followed an announcement in January 2023 about a contract for construction of the first BWRX-300 at the Darlington site. In March, it was announced that GEH, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), OPG and SGE are teaming up to invest in the development of the BWRX-300 standard design and detailed design for key components.

In February 2023, Fermi Energia announced that it had selected the BWRX-300 for potential deployment in Estonia. Later, in April, Poland’s Orlen Synthos Green Energy (OSGE) applied for a decision-in-principle on the construction of SMRs based on GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's BWRX-300 at six locations. In May, the company received a positive general opinion from the President of the National Atomic Energy Agency (PAA) regarding selected technical assumptions for the BWRX-300 reactor technology as part of the pre-licensing process.

The Darlington plant will be the reference project for OSGE, which is a joint venture company established by chemical producers PKN Orlen and Synthos Green Energy (SGE) to pursue deployment of SMRs in Poland. In December 2021, GE Hitachi, BWXT Canada and SGE had signed a letter of intend to cooperate in deploying BWRX-300 SMRs in Poland with the aim of having the first unit deployed in 2029 and at least 10 in operation by the early 2030s.

Image: Artist's impression of a BWRX-300 plant (courtesy of GE Hitachi)