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New Rolls-Royce ‘mini’ nuclear power plant could light million homes

A fresh design for a compact nuclear power station being developed by hundreds of Rolls-Royce engineers in Derby has been revealed.

Nuclear power experts in the city have also helped increase the power of the small modular reactors (SMR), working as part of a large consortium led by Rolls-Royce.

The consortium estimates that the nuclear power stations would generate 40,000 jobs across the UK, if approved. The design is due to be assessed by regulators within the next few months.

The first phase of the project is on time and under budget and has increased its projected power output from 440 megawatts (MW) to 470MW without adding any additional cost.

Each power station will therefore be capable of powering around a million homes and is expected to be in operation for 60 years.

It is hoped that the first one will be completed in the early 2030s and there will be up to 10 by 2035 – with proposed locations including Trawsfynydd and Wylfa in North Wales.

The refreshed design features a faceted aesthetic roof, an earth embankment surrounding the power station to integrate with the surrounding landscape and a more compact building footprint, thanks to better use of floor space.

If all goes well, the UK SMR team will become a stand-alone business to produce a fleet of power stations for use in the UK and for export abroad.

It is hoped that it will help reduce consumers’ dependency on coal and gas.

The consortium claims that each power station can supply enough reliable low carbon power for around one million homes, or be used to power net zero hydrogen and synthetic aviation fuel manufacturing facilities, desalination plants or energy intensive industrial sites.

Tom Samson, Chief Executive Officer of the UK SMR consortium, said: “Nuclear power is central to tackling climate change, securing economic recovery and strengthening energy security. To do this it must be affordable, reliable and investable and the way we manufacture and assemble our power station brings down its cost to be comparable with offshore wind at around £50 per megawatt-hour.

“As we reach the end of our first phase, I’m proud that our team has designed a product that can be commoditised to provide the scale required to be a key part of the world’s decarbonisation efforts.

“We are ready to go and hope to be first in line to start the rigorous Generic Design Assessment process in the Autumn of this year.”

In the UK alone the power station programme is forecast to:

  • create 40,000 regional UK jobs by 2050
  • generate £52 billion of economic benefit
  • have 80% of the plant’s components sourced from the UK
  • target an additional £250 billion of exports – memoranda of understanding are already in place with Estonia, Turkey and the Czech Republic
  • cost initially around £2.2 billion per unit dropping to £1.8bn by the time five have been completed
  • operate for at least 60 years

The design, which will be finalised at the end of the regulatory assessment process, proposes that all used fuel will be stored on each site for the lifetime of the plant.

The power station’s design cuts costs by using standard nuclear energy technology used in 400 reactors around the world, so no prototyping is required.

Components for the power station are manufactured in modules in factories, before being transported to existing nuclear sites for rapid assembly inside a weatherproof canopy.

This replicates factory conditions for precision activities and further cuts costs by avoiding weather disruptions.

The consortium members feature the best of nuclear engineering, construction and infrastructure expertise in Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Rolls-Royce and TWI.

Consortium members have worked in integrated teams – remotely during Covid – across all aspects of the first phase of the programme to progress the design and ensure innovations were targeted only at elements of the power station that would drive down costs.

The power stations will be built by the new UK SMR business, before being handed over to be operated by power generation companies.

In November 2020 the consortium signed a Memorandum of Understanding with US giant Exelon Generation to pursue the potential for Exelon Generation to operate compact nuclear power stations both in the UK and internationally.

Source: Derby Telegraph