Rolls-Royce power technology group in the UK announced plans to build and operate mini nuclear power stations to be located in North Wales and North England by 2029.
In a statement made to the BBC, Chief technology officer Paul Stein said the company is on track to deploying small modular reactors (SMRs) that use prefabricated materials that can easily be transported by truck and assembled on site.
These scalable projects can promote nuclear as a zero-carbon energy source as opposed to humongous, gigawatt-scale power stations.
The consortium led by aero-engine giant Rolls-Royce has tabled plans to build SMRs that are predictable and affordable in cost, potentially lowering electricity bills for consumers. Subjected for approval by industry regulators, the project is eyeing a 2030 goal to plug the first small reactor, producing low-carbon energy for years to come.
Rolls-Royce reports the technology could enable a low price of £60 per MWh for electricity, posing mini nuclear as a viable alternative for some renewables.
Stein stated in the interview that the firm is expecting an SMR power station capable of producing 440MW to cost around £1.75 billion. He also added that the expenses could further lower once economies of scale and manufacturing advance between now and the 2029 first-grid connection target.
Rolls-Royce plans to build around ten to fifteen power stations across the UK, which will likely be built in former nuclear sites to uphold security and safety.
Alan Woods, Rolls-Royce strategy and business development director, revealed that the company is yet to identify specific sites, but are looking to focus on building efforts in the North and Wales.
Informal discussions within Whitehall has already taken place regarding the existing licenced nuclear sites in the area.
Other sites considered include Wylfa in North Wales and Moorside in Cumbria, where sizeable nuclear power stations projects have been shelved recently. To date, eight of Britain’s large-scale nuclear power stations are nearing the end of their lifespan, mostly coming to a close by decade’s end.
The firm is certain this innovative project will play an essential role in the delivery of the country’s net-zero emission target by 2050.
Modular reactors are considerably smaller. Manufacturers are anticipating mass-production once the first model is approved and operation, which will then lead to shorter manufacturing times and lowered expenses for every unit.
Each reactor will be capable of generating around one-fifth of the latest energy generation of bigger reactors like that in Hinkley Point C in Somerset owned by French supplier EDF.
Current nuclear power builds produce around 20% of the country’s electricity. These large-scale reactors were designed to boost power supply, but many stations have met issues like massive cost overruns and delays, including that in Hinkley Point C.
However, officials warned of opposition by the general public, especially those that live near the target building sites.
Cornwall Insight senior modeller Tom Edwards commented that nuclear is less likely to be cheaper than solar or wind farms, but the high demand for energy in the UK can catapult nuclear into the energy mix.
Meanwhile, the UK nuclear sector has been struggling with controversy over safety and costs. Nuclear developer Horizon working at Wylfa suspended construction last year due to rising costs. Several months ago, plans to build a Moorside nuclear power station were cancelled after Toshiba announced that it was shelving the project.
Rolls-Royce is hopeful that the SMRs can provide a fresh perspective for nuclear to join the 2050 net-zero emission goal in the UK. The firm claims that these builds will utilise proven technologies that offer class-leading safety outlook and minimal regulatory risk, which make for an attractive market option.
The £500 million joint investment between Rolls-Royce and the Government consortium was introduced last summer, with the government awarding an initial £18 million in a sign-off last November. The consortium will match the said sum.