United Kingdom

Rolls-Royce starts hunt for buyers after nuclear reactor boost

A consortium led by Rolls-Royce is on the hunt for orders for its £2billion nuclear reactors after a redesign that means each will power 100,000 more homes. 

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the UK Small Modular Reactor (SMR) project has revamped the proposed mini reactors to increase their output. The factory-built reactors will now generate 470 megawatts, enough to provide electricity to a million homes. 

The project, launched in 2015, aims to bring ten mini nuclear reactors into use by 2035, with the first due to enter service around 2030. 

Redesign: The factory-built reactors will now generate 470 megawatts, enough to provide electricity to a million homes

Tom Samson, chief executive of the UK SMR Consortium, said negotiations had begun with potential investors to fund the creation of the mini reactors – signalling that the project may move more rapidly than previously thought. 

He said it was looking for customers, which could include energy, industrial or technology companies, to operate the sites. He added: 'We're ready to take this technology to market. We're going to be pursuing orders. We're hoping to get orders soon.' 

The UK's nuclear power industry has had a chequered recent past with the future of some huge plants thrown into doubt. Rolls-Royce hopes to create a nimbler solution to complement big power stations.

Rolls-Royce is the major share holder in the venture, which has been developed through a consortium that includes Atkins, Jacobs and Laing O'Rourke. The Government has so far invested £18million to support its design and £215million has been earmarked for the SMR programme as part of a 'Green Industrial Revolution'. 

Samson said a further £300million of private capital is now being sought to develop the reactors, which it hopes will be located both in the UK and overseas. 

The initial 'two to three' units are likely to require Government support, but Samson hopes to move to 'traditional debt and equity' to fund following orders. Last week, the Government updated its nuclear policy to open its Generic Design Assessment to new nuclear technologies. UK SMR hopes to be the first to submit a proposal to Government and regulators. 

Decision: The switch from an 'armadillo'-shaped building to one with a 'faceted' top allowing the roof to wrap around the inner workings made it more efficient

Samson said 220 engineering decisions had been made in the latest designs. He said the switch from an 'armadillo'-shaped building to one with a 'faceted' top allowing the roof to wrap around the inner workings made it more efficient. 

The Prime Minister's former chief adviser Dominic Cummings was a champion of the UK SMR programme, but Samson said No10 remained behind the project and it chimed with current policy. 

He added: 'We unashamedly wrap ourselves in the Union Jack. This is a really proud UK innovation that we've developed here at low cost. And that's what consumers need. 

'We're contributing to the Government's levelling-up agenda. We're also contributing to its post-Brexit global Britain agenda.' 

Samson is running the rule over sites for factories to build the mini reactors, and said they were most likely to be in the North of England and the East Midlands, where Rolls-Royce is based. He is also studying potential locations for the reactors, which could include former nuclear sites in West Cumbria and Anglesey, where Japanese giant Hitachi pulled the plug on plans for a £20billion plant last year. 

Samson described renewable energies such as solar and wind power as 'weather dependent', adding: 'We're not intermittent. These plants will run for 60 years. They will operate 24/7.'

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