Rolls-Royce plans to build up to 15 mini nuclear reactors in Britain

Rolls-Royce plans to build up ...
Artist's concept of a Rolls-Royce SMR plant
Artist's concept of a Rolls-Royce SMR plant
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Artist's concept of a Rolls-Royce SMR plant
Artist's concept of a Rolls-Royce SMR plant

Rolls-Royce has announced that it plans to build, install, and operate up to 15 mini nuclear reactors in Britain, with the first set to go online in nine years. In a BBC Radio 4 interview with business journalist Katie Prescott on January 24, 2020's Today program, Paul Stein, chief technology officer for Rolls-Royce, said that the company is leading a consortium to produce factory-built modular nuclear reactors that can be delivered for assembly by ordinary lorries.

Currently, the world is undergoing a boom in nuclear power. According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 448 operating civilian reactors and another 53 under construction. However, almost all of these are being built in Eastern Europe and Asia, with China alone building more reactors than the entire Western world combined.

Part of the reason for this is political with every reactor program in Europe or North America facing implacable environmentalist opposition and part of it is the expense of building and operating large reactors in an energy economy now dominated by cheap natural gas. However, one technology trend that could reverse this stagnation is the development of small, modular nuclear reactors that could be mass-produced in factories, carted to the site by ordinary lorries, and then assembled to generate cheap carbon-free electricity.

This approach, too, has its drawbacks, but Rolls-Royce believes that its consortium has got its sums right and can restart Britain's nuclear industry by building up to 15 Small Modular Reactors (SMR) with an expected value to the UK economy of £52 billion (US$68 billion), another £250 billion (US$327 billion) in exports, and 40,000 new jobs by 2050.

Each power station is projected to have a service life of 60 years and generate 440 MW of electricity, or enough to power a city the size of Leeds. The estimated cost of the electricity generated is £60 (US$78) per MWh.

"Our plan is to get energy on the grid in 2029," Prescott told the BBC. "The obvious sites to put them are what we call brown-field sites – sites where we're running elderly or decommissioned nuclear power stations. There are two sites in Wales and one in the northwest of England. Eventually in the UK, we’ll be rolling out 10 to 15. We're also looking to a significant export market. In fact, the current estimate for the export market for SMRs is £250 billion, so this could be a huge industry."

According to a previous press release from Rolls-Royce, the British government has already promised £18 million in matching funds, or about half the present costs of the endeavor, with the consortium partners providing the rest. Prescott says that the advantage of the Rolls-Royce plan is that it doesn't involve building a whole new reactor, as other companies have tried to do, but rather to adapt a present design. In addition, the reactors will be built along manufacturing lines rather than civil construction, which the company claims will drive down costs rather than inflating them.

"Our desire has not been to create a new nuclear reactor," says Prescott. "In fact, the design of the nuclear reactor is one that we've been running for many, many years in nuclear power stations around the world. It’s been a relentless focus on cost and it's the first time that's been done – to take a look at a whole power station design and not just the nuclear island, also the other parts of the power station, and the civil engineering construction and the time from starting it to finishing it. And I think it's the first time an industrial consortium has focused on driving down the cost of electricity to the consumer and it’s arrived just at the right time with escalating concerns about climate change."

Source: Rolls-Royce

This is what Australia needs. We have all the fuel we need right here and we can get away from coal. Our biggest climate problems in Australia are a lack of water and too many coal-fired power stations. If the politicians want to do something useful they should build desalination plants all around the coast run by mini nuclear power plants. In one project they can solve the water problems and get rid of the reliance on coal in one fell swoop.
Worrying. UK does not have the cleanest record in Nuclear energy. They cant keep dumping their nuclear waste non stop in the sea in leaking barrels. Now they are out of the EU, they will likely start dumping it everywhere. The welsh sites were built there specifically to keep fallout away from London, and if they melt down the destroy the natural resources of Ireland not the UK. The Irish sea is full of very deep trenches, and the UK promised over and over that they never dumped waste in them, but the latest freedom of information requests show they have been. Its even more disrespectful to Ireland as they are anti nuclear and dont even let nuclear warships enter their waters.
When I read the word "Mini" I imagined it powering a town of maybe 10,000 people. Apparently RR have a different definition. I quite like the idea, The UK has been reducing its coal use every year and next up should be the gas.
uday pasricha
We should all be grateful that a responsible name and brand takes forward the only technology that gives us zero emission. The dangers of war are all around us because all technologies seems to emerge from war. Our lives are focused on conflict as a tool for transaction. Hopefully Rolls Royce would have also checked out Bill Gates nuclear technology choice which uses spent fuel as the fuel source.
Marc Delamea
Ah! the article does not describe if the reactors will use Uranium or Thorium. Better believe it, Thorium is vastly more plentiful and safer to use than Uranium. The Thorium technology was licensed to the Chinese by president Obama some years ago having been mostly developed by the US in the 70's. If the Chinese are planning to use Thorium Rolls Royce will likely go bust trying to compete with dirty Uranium!
MW should be at least 1000 £ in order to feel its worth. Why they are building these plants? Because they afford wasting the money. Who will win? The workers who get those salaries.
Paul Anderson
The estimated cost per MWhr is already uncompetitive, and it’s probably optimistic anyway. Another foolish ‘solution’. Build them at your peril!
Of course, they wont be thorium, which is relatively benevolent, compared to uranium, and this will make it even easier for every country in the world large or small to become a nuclear threat. It's been reported that China is making serious explorations into thorium, due to the dangers and shortages o uranium. Perhaps it would be good for RR to do the same.
James Brown
The biggest arguement against is the waste. if the waste is so harmful it must hold a lot of energy. why not capture that? why waste it?
If this plan was actually good, then it would not need a subsidy. A big part of the problem is that governments insist on subsidizing... this plan, solar, wind, even coal! Maybe society is using too much energy because the true cost is hidden in taxes. Let them come up with a plan that can go without a subsidy, then I'll back it. Until that happens, just use less energy.