The UK could take a lead in an export market worth around £250bn following the award of government funding to support the development of a small modular reactor (SMR) design.
The government has committed £18m to support the development of this new type of power station as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, subject to final confirmation in early autumn.
Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium that has proposed a joint investment of over £500m that is focused on designing a first-of-a-kind SMR and delivering a working model in the early 2030s, creating 40,000 jobs at its peak.
According to Rolls-Royce, government funding will be matched in part by consortium contributions and by attracting third-party investment. The company said that investment is needed to mature the design, address ‘considerable manufacturing technology requirements’ and take the design through the regulatory licensing process. It will also give the UK supply chain the confidence to invest in its capabilities.
SMRs could be rolled out under a financing model being considered by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Designed to attract private investment, and already used in projects like the Thames Tideway Tunnel, the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) approach could reduce the cost of financing infrastructure and risk for developers whilst limiting the long-term impact on consumers’ bills.
In a statement, business and energy secretary Greg Clark said: “We are building on our international leadership in clean growth to invest and develop the technologies and funding models we will need to reach net zero emissions. This new funding model has the potential to help UK industry seize the global challenge of the low carbon transition by building the infrastructure we need, while offering value for money for consumers and taxpayers.”
SMRs have generating capacities of up to 500MWe and can be made with components built in factories and assembled on site. According to Rolls-Royce, the nascent SMR industry could revitalise parts of Britain’s heavy industry and unlock prosperity across the UK regions through the construction and operation of power stations and advanced manufacturing facilities. SMRs could also ‘bolster the take-up of renewable energies, by providing reliable power, helping to guarantee Britain’s energy security and position as a leading innovator in low carbon technologies’.
Expressions of interest from overseas have underpinned the consortium’s belief that exports could be worth over £250bn. The consortium comprises Rolls-Royce, Assystem, SNC Lavalin/Atkins, Wood, Arup, Laing O’Rourke, BAM Nuttall, Siemens, National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and Nuclear AMRC.