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UK SMR selection contest: Six companies into next stage

EDF, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy International LLC, Holtec Britain Limited, NuScale Power, Rolls Royce SMR and Westinghouse Electric Company UK Limited are now to be invited to bid for UK government contracts in the next stage of the process.

The UK government has plans to expand nuclear energy capacity to 24 GW by 2050, with a fleet of small modular reactors (SMRs) a key part of that strategy. Earlier this year the government, and the new Great British Nuclear (GBN) arms-length body set up to help deliver that extra capacity, began the selection process for which SMR technology to use.

There are more than 70 different designs of SMRs around the world at different stages of development, and it is not known how many of them put themselves forward for selection, which GBN said was judged on being “the most able to deliver operational SMRs by the mid-2030s”. The aim is for a final investment decision to be taken in 2029.

It says that the next stage of the contest will be launched “as soon as possible where the successful companies will shortly be able to bid for government contracts … the ambition is to announce in Spring 2024 which of the six companies the government will support, with contracts awarded by Summer 2024. This timetable aims to make this competition the fastest of its kind in the world”.

UK Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said: “Small modular reactors will help the UK rapidly expand nuclear power and deliver cheaper, cleaner, and more secure energy for British families and businesses, create well-paid, high-skilled jobs, and grow the economy. This competition has attracted designs from around the world and puts the UK at the front of the global race to develop this exciting, cutting-edge technology and cement our position as a world leader in nuclear innovation.”

Gwen Parry-Jones, CEO of Great British Nuclear said: “These companies will now be able to prepare for the next stages of the competition, aiming for a final contract agreement in the summer, potentially benefiting from significant support from the public purse. This is a hugely exciting day for the nuclear industry. For companies who were not successful in this initial process, the next opportunity could be the government’s consultation on alternative routes to market for nuclear technologies which is due to be launched soon. This will look at how to support newer technologies so that Britain can benefit from them as well.”

The companies selected reacted with delight. GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s President and CEO Jay Wileman said: “We are pleased that our SMR technology has reached the next stage of Great British Nuclear’s competition. We believe that our SMR, the BWRX-300, is an ideal solution for the UK’s energy security and decarbonisation goals. Customers in Canada, the US and Poland are investing in our technology and this global collaboration is helping accelerate its deployment. We look forward to continuing to develop a robust UK supply chain and to continuing our work with Great British Nuclear as we enter the next phase of the competition.”

Rolls-Royce SMR CEO Chris Cholerton, said: “The Rolls-Royce SMR is a British solution to the global energy security and decarbonisation challenge. We welcome our shortlisting and are eager to build on this progress, moving quickly to the next stage where we can work to agree a contract and help the government reach its ambition to deliver up to 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050. We have the only SMR technology in a European regulatory approval process, putting us almost two years ahead of any of our competitors. Securing a domestic contract is vitally important to unlock the enormous global export potential of our clean energy technology.”

Westinghouse Electric Company President and CEO Patrick Fragman said: “Congratulations to Great British Nuclear on their swift progress. We are proud to provide our proven, advanced AP300 SMR technology to build a more secure, cleaner energy future. Westinghouse will leverage our deep UK and global nuclear heritage, expertise and delivery in support of the UK’s net-zero and energy security ambitions. We look forward to this opportunity to demonstrate that the AP300 SMR is the best option for the UK.”

NuScale’s VOYGR SMR is the only one so far to have been certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and it says it is being considered in more than 10 countries around the world. It describes its design as “based on proven pressurised water-cooled reactor technology, and was developed to supply energy for electrical generation, district heating, desalination, commercial-scale hydrogen production and other process heat applications”.

Holtec’s 160 MWe SMR is a pressurised light-water reactor using low-enriched uranium fuel. The design has completed the first phase of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s three-phase pre-licensing vendor design review and is undergoing pre-licensing activities with the US NRC. Holtec has also applied for a Generic Design Assessment of the SMR-160 in the UK. Among the countries it is being considered is Ukraine, with a cooperation agreement signed earlier this year with a target date of supplying power by March 2029, and potentially up to to 20 SMRs eventually across the country.

EDF is currently constructing the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in the UK, the first new nuclear power plant in the country for decades. It is also planning to construct an “identical” plant at Sizewell C, with a financial investment decision awaited. The company’s SMR is Nuward, which is “based on proven pressurised water reactor technology alongside key technological innovations”. It says it will have a 40-month construction time and has a goal of first concrete on its first plant in France in 2030. It has begun prelicensing in France and has also held a joint early regulatory review of its design with regulators from France, the Czech Republic and Finland.

Great British Nuclear said earlier this year that it expected “up to four” technologies to be selected for support to pursue a project through Final Investment Decision to construction and operation, with the support including “funding to support technology development site-specific design, a close partnership with Great British Nuclear which will be ready and able to provide developer capacility” and support in accessing sites.

Source: World Nuclear News