Rolls-Royce consortium shopping for factory sites to build mini-nuclear reactors

Hunt follows £210m government funding in small modular reactor model

UK aerospace and engineering giant Rolls-Royce is on the hunt for sites for its much-touted small nuclear reactors, which received a £210m grant from the UK government last year.

A consortium of BNF Resources UK Ltd, Exelon Generation Ltd, and Roll-Royce Group is set to invest £195m roughly over three years, qualifying it for a £210m grant from government, specifically UK Research and Innovation Funding.

The group has now written to sites across the country to find a prospective home for a factory to build the new reactors. Writing to Local Enterprise Partnerships – non-profit bodies which aim to bring councils and commerce together – the group is seeking bids for the location of its "factory" set to make the new approach to nuclear-powered electricity generation, according to the Financial Times.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are much smaller than the current generation of nuclear reactors under construction. While Hinkley Point C, currently being built by EDF in the west of England, is expected to produce 3,200MW of electricity – around 7 per cent of the UK's consumption – SMRs are expected to produce 300MWe per unit. Rolls-Royce said one of its SMR power stations will have the capacity to generate 470MW of "low carbon energy."

But what SMRs lack in economies of scale, they make up for in modular design and off-site construction. The International Atomic Energy Authority says that "prefabricated units of SMRs can be manufactured and then shipped and installed on-site, making them more affordable to build than large power reactors, which are often custom-designed for a particular location, sometimes leading to construction delays. SMRs offer savings in cost and construction time, and they can be deployed incrementally to match increasing energy demand."

According to the FT, the consortium has written to LEPs promising the lucky winners would get "high value, sustainable jobs which will produce products that will be exported globally for many decades to come" if they were chosen for the factory site.

It was looking for "sites based on our selection criteria in your region together with supporting evidence or financial and non-financial support where appropriate," according to the pink business newspaper.

A Rolls-Royce SMR spokesperson said: "The development and growth of a UK nuclear manufacturing base is core to the deployment of Rolls-Royce SMRs. We have therefore initiated a process to identify a site for the first major factory installation, the Heavy Pressure Vessel factory.

"We look forward to working with LEPs and the Welsh government to identify potential sites, an important step in delivering on our commitment to 80 per cent UK content for Rolls-Royce SMR deployment in the UK."

The government is putting a bill through Parliament proposing a "regulated asset base" funding model for new nuclear power stations in the UK. Currently in its second reading in the House of Lords, the bill proposes [PDF] giving nuclear generation companies a right to a regulated revenue stream during the construction, commissioning, and operation of project.

The government's strategy includes a new £120m "Future Nuclear Enabling Fund" intended to "provide targeted support in relation to barriers to entry" for advanced nuclear technologies, including SMRs.

In November 2021, the government announced £210m in "new government funding" for developing the design of the Rolls-Royce SMR. At the time, government said the investment was to be matched by "private sector funding of over £250m." ®

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