The UK is set to approve funding for a fleet of small nuclear reactors which will be built by Rolls Royce, according to reports over the weekend.
A consortium led by the British engineering firm had already secured £215 million in backing from private investors for the small modular reactor (SMR) project, a sum that the government is expected to match or better.
Indeed, the UK Prime Minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution greenlights the UK Small Modular Reactor programme.
Last year the government announced that The £215 million investment into small modular reactors (SMR) will be delivered through the Low Cost Nuclear (LCN) programme from 2021 onwards, as part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
UKRI launched the programme in November 2019 with an initial £18 million investment to develop a concept design, which was match funded by the UK SMR consortium, led by Rolls-Royce.
Rolls Royce has previously described the SMR programme as “a once in a lifetime opportunity for UK nuclear companies to design, manufacture and build next generation reactors to meet the UK’s energy needs”.
Rolls-Royce added: “The UK Government has the chance to maximise British content, creating and sustaining intellectual property, high-tech, high-skills employment, a reinvigorated UK supply chain and positioning the country as a global leader in innovative nuclear technologies that present tremendous opportunities in international export markets.”
Tom Greatrex, the chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), said: “Match-funding for Rolls-Royce would be a huge signal to private investors that the government wants SMRs alongside new large-scale stations to hit net zero. It would also show investors that the government believes in nuclear as a green technology.”
Backing from the government will pave the way for the consortium’s multibillion-pound plan to build 16 SMRs around the country, the first of which could be plugged into the grid by 2031.
Each reactor, designed to be easy to build and install, will have a capacity of 470 megawatts (MW), enough to power nearly 1.3m homes, based on average household usage.
Bigger reactors have been in use for decades, but these newer, smaller ones are being promoted as an alternative that may be quicker to deploy, and more environmentally friendly. They are also being touted as a way to help plug a gap in low carbon generation.
UK government ministers consider these high-temperature gas-cooled reactors as the “most promising model” for Britain’s pilot. Alongside electricity, this type of reactor can produce clean hydrogen and heat, according to a government statement.
“While renewables like wind and solar will become an integral part of where our electricity will come from by 2050, they will always require a stable low-carbon baseload from nuclear,” said Anne Marie Trevelyan, minister of state for energy, in the summer.
“Advanced modular reactors are the next level of modern nuclear technology and have the potential to play a crucial role not only in tackling carbon emissions, but also in powering industry.”
“Alongside negotiations with the developers of Sizewell C in Suffolk, we are pressing ahead with harnessing new and exciting advanced nuclear technology,” Trevelyan added.
Rolls-Royce has said it could create 6000 jobs within five years if the government backs its SMR plans.