Plans for the UK to roll out a revolutionary form of nuclear power as the country scrambles to wean itself off foreign imports of fossil fuels have hit a bump in the road after a Government row pushed back a funding deal by at least 12 months. Rolls-Royce’s small modular reactors (SMRs) are a groundbreaking new type of 470 megawatt power station that differ from traditional nuclear in the sense that these are supposed to be much smaller, easier to build, cheaper and quicker to deploy.
They featured as a key part of the Government’s energy strategy unveiled back in April, which detailed a blueprint for Britain’s path to energy independence as it strives to cut ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As part of the nuclear element contained in the strategy, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government announced that it would set up a body, called Great British Nuclear, to help deliver the next SMRs by identifying potential sites, developers and investors.
But internal disagreements are threatening to scupper the UK’s nuclear plan. According to a report in The Sunday Times, Whitehall sources have revealed that there is still a large degree of uncertainty over the scale of state investment in SMRs.
Rolls-Royce has already drawn up designs for a 470 megawatt SMR and is keen on building factories, calling on ministers to begin funding talks and start making orders. The British engineering giant is reportedly after a commitment for four initial SMRs, costing around £2billion for each one.
However, insiders have hinted that the Government may decide to launch another competition to receive further evidence before any firm deals are made.
Treasury ministers are said to be concerned about the costs associated with GBN, which officials say is billions of pounds over budget. The nuclear body is expected to be announced early this year, following months of delays, but the internal feud could result in changes to its role and its funding.
Paul Stein, chairman of the Rolls SMR consortium, said: “We stand ready to upscale SMR as soon as we get the green light … We’re confident our design will bring the lowest cost of energy … the lowest risk, and be game changing for British jobs and exports.
“It’s not just procurement of SMRs that is at stake, but our energy security, our national prosperity and the development of a home-grown design which will re- industrialise our nation. We trust that whatever process the government follows will reach this same view and we can proceed with pace.”
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Rolls-Royce says its SMRs will be around the size of two football pitches and will be capable of powering half a million homes. The Government is hoping to build up to 16 of these reactors within the next 25 years.
There is also an expected £250billon export market potential for the innovations, and Mr Stein has previously told Express.co.uk that the company hopes to take a significant share of that market.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Dan Gould, Head of Communications at Rolls-Royce SMR said: “Rolls-Royce SMR’s nuclear power station design is based on well-established and understood Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) technology – currently, there are hundreds of these kinds of reactors operating around the world (Sizewell B in Suffolk and the Hinkley Point C station currently under construction are both PWR reactors).
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”We have a deep knowledge and experience of designing and manufacturing nuclear reactor technology from six decades of experience with the UK submarine fleet – no other SMR company in the world today possesses such depth of nuclear reactor design, manufacturing or technology experience. “
A BEIS source told The Sunday Times: “It is clear the way to shore up this country’s energy security is to achieve a pipeline of new nuclear. The Government [is] committed to .. establishing and backing Great British Nuclear.”