Rolls-Royce’s new ‘mini’ nuclear power plant could light millions of homes


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

The city’s nuclear power experts have also helped boost the power of small modular reactors (SMRs), working as part of a large consortium led by Rolls-Royce.

The consortium estimates that nuclear power plants would create 40,000 jobs across the UK, if approved. The design is to be assessed by regulators in the coming months.

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

Each plant will therefore be capable of supplying around one million households and should operate for 60 years.

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

The refreshed design includes an aesthetic faceted roof, earthen fill surrounding the power plant to blend in 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 company to produce a fleet of power plants for use in the UK and export abroad.

It is hoped that this will help reduce consumer dependence on coal and gas.

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

Rolls-Royce-led SMR consortium reveals latest compact nuclear power plant design

Tom Samson, CEO of the UK SMR consortium, said: “Nuclear power is key to tackling climate change, securing economic recovery and enhancing energy security. To do this, it needs to be affordable, reliable and investable and the way we manufacture and assemble our power plant reduces its cost to be on par with offshore wind at around £ 50 per megawatt hour.

“As we near the end of our first phase, I am proud that our team has designed a product that can be commoditized to deliver the scale required to be a key part of decarbonization efforts around the world.

“We’re good to go and hope to be the first to start the rigorous generic design review process in the fall of this year.”

In the UK alone, the power plant program is expected to:

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

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

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

Plant components are manufactured in modules in factories, before being transported to existing nuclear sites for quick assembly inside a weatherproof canopy.

This mimics factory conditions for precision activities and further reduces costs by avoiding weather disturbances.

Consortium members have the best of nuclear engineering, construction and infrastructure expertise at Assystem, Atkins, BAM Nuttall, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, Rolls-Royce and TWI.

Consortium members worked in integrated teams – remotely during Covid – on all aspects of the first phase of the program to advance the design and ensure that innovations only targeted those parts of the power plant that would reduce costs.

The power plants will be built by the new British company SMR, before being sold for operation by power generation companies.

In November 2020, the consortium signed a memorandum of understanding with US giant Exelon Generation to harness the potential of Exelon Generation to operate compact nuclear power plants in the UK and abroad.


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