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The role of SMRs in the Net Zero Challenge

Apr 15, 2021

Tom Samson, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the UK SMR consortium

To meet the climate challenge the world faces, it is becoming increasingly clear that we will need to decarbonise more of the energy sector than just grid electricity.  Many countries, including the UK, are coming to recognise that the only route to achieving this at the scale required in the timescales necessary is through the deployment of nuclear power alongside renewables.  The problem then becomes how to reliably deploy low carbon nuclear power, at a cost that is more widely investable than current nuclear solutions and at a price/MWh that is affordable alongside other sources.  This is the problem that the Rolls-Royce led UK SMR consortium began to address in 2016 and which has led to the development of our new factory fabricated, road transportable and site assembled, fully integrated nuclear power station.

Launching the Rolls-Royce UK SMR design to address that simple problem statement quickly led to the key principle behind the plant design; enable the safe delivery of low carbon power at the lowest Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCoE) to the consumer.  Embedding this basic principle as a key requirement for all design decisions enables us to focus on reducing the aspects of plant design, construction and operation that impact LCOE including capital cost, financing risk, build time and operational costs. This approach has led to decisions including;

  • Design of the complete power station and not just the nuclear island; only 20%-25% of the overall plant cost relates to the nuclear island so we cannot significantly reduce the LCoE without addressing the other parts of the plant.
  • Use of conventional Pressurised Water Reactor and existing fuel technology; to reduce regulatory risk, remove the need for a prototype (which would add significant cost and time to deployment) and enable the use of existing fuel supply and waste management infrastructure.
  • Whole plant factory fabrication and modularisation; 90% of the plant is factory fabricated comprising a modular approach designed to reduce capital cost, be road transportable and to expedite site assembly and installation and significantly reduce construction risk.
  • Compact site layout: to enable assembly on an aseismic bearing to allow repeatability without cause for site specific redesign.  Also, to allow enclosure of the construction site under a reusable Canopy to provide a controlled environment to maximise build efficiency.
  • Adaptable design; the UK SMR is designed to be utilised in integrated energy systems producing electricity alongside district heating, hydrogen, e-fuel and desalination solutions and off-grid, industrial applications such as steel plants, data centres etc.  Additionally, the use of indirect cooling and the aseismic bearing enable deployment to a wider variety of site locations than previously possible.  

This design approach enables each factory manufactured plant, capable of providing 470MWe at a typical LCOE of £35-£50/MWh, to be delivered with a 4-year assembly and commissioning duration at a capital cost under £1.8bn for a fleet unit.

The low capital cost and factory build solution of our SMR enables plant deployments to be faster and simpler than previous projects and opens the door for non-nuclear and developing countries as well as industrial customers to consider nuclear technology as the solution to their low carbon energy needs.

This is an exciting year for our team as the Special Purpose Vehicle company to take our programme forward will formally launch and as we enter our next phase including commencing UK Regulatory Approval through the Generic Design Assessment later this year.

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