A consortium led by Rolls Royce has announced plans to build up to 16 mini-nuclear plants in the UK. It says the project will create 6,000 new jobs in the Midlands and the North of England over the next five years. The Prime Minister is understood to be poised to announce at least £200m for the project as part of a long-delayed green plan for economic recovery. Rolls argues that as well as producing low-carbon electricity, the concept could become a new export industry. The company’s UK “small modular reactor” (SMR) group includes the National Nuclear Laboratory and the building company Laing O’Rourke. Last year, it received £18m to begin the design effort for the SMR concept.
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The consortium estimates that the first project would cost between £2.2 billion and £2.5 billion, which could fall to £1.8 billion for further projects, enabling it to deliver electricity for between £40 and £60 per megawatt-hour. That is still more expensive than recent offshore wind projects. Andrew Stirling, Professor of Science and Technology Policy at the University of Sussex, said that the kind of SMRs envisaged by Rolls-Royce were commercially untested and that the nuclear industry had “a grave history of hype and disappointment”.
Times 12th Nov 2020 read more »
An energy white paper is in the offing, so consider Rolls-Royce’s pitch for the wonders of small modular reactors (SMRs) a piece of last-minute lobbying. After all, it is clear already that more nuclear, in combination with more offshore wind capacity, is likely to be judged a central way to meet the UK’s targets for cutting carbon emissions. It’s an eye-catching pitch. “A domestic energy solution for the first time in a generation, with a product that is engineered, designed and manufactured in the UK,” as Tom Samson, the chief executive of the nine-member Rolls-led UK SMR consortium puts it. So not one of those mammoth £20bn-plus French-led and Chinese-backed Hinkley Point C constructions. A programme of building 16 mini-nuclear power stations would create 6,000 skilled jobs within five years, and a further 34,000 by the mid-2030s, says the consortium. About 80% of the components would be built in the Midlands and north of England. And the backers are already talking up the export potential – the Czech Republic and Turkey have signed up for feasibility studies. What’s not to like? The clue is in that word “feasibility”. The consortium hasn’t actually built an SMR yet, so claims about lower costs per megawatt hour versus EDF’s at Hinkley are yet to be tested on the ground. The immediate question for government is whether to give a green light for the next stage of development. That would mean legislative support, making sites available and coughing up roughly £2bn of public money. If nuclear power is deemed essential to hitting carbon targets, the answer is probably yes. A 30-year energy policy needs to be able to adapt to ever-changing financial calculations. SMRs have the advantage of speedier construction times than Hinkley-style mega-plants. They are an experiment worth exploring.
Guardian 11th Nov 2020 read more »
Even Boris Johnson should be able to make his mind up on this one. What’s better for Britain: politically radioactive mega-nukes built by China or a shiny fleet of small modular reactors, home grown by Rolls-Royce and other plucky Brits? Have a squint at the engine maker’s latest missive and a glowing nuclear future awaits. Or so it says. Just a “clear commitment” from the PM is all the Rolls consortium needs, apparently, and it’ll unleash 16 modular power plants over the next two decades. And what better way to solve our energy fix than a plan that creates 40,000 jobs, contributes “massively to the levelling-up agenda”, helps “secure the UK’s net zero” pledge and brings in exports of “at least £250 billion”? If it all sounds too good to be true, that’s because it probably is. Yes, almost any energy solution beats big nuclear: a toxic mix of old tech, uncontrollable costs, post-Fukushima safety demands and a giant clean-up bill. Plus, in Britain, an uneasy reliance on China: the Hong Kong crackdown, cyber-hacking nation jointly behind the £22.5 billion, 3,200MW Hinkley Point C and the mooted plants at Sizewell C in Suffolk and Bradwell B in Essex, the latter using its own tech. Yet, despite Rolls’ nous with nuclear submarines, mini civil nukes are a leap in the dark. For starters, its version isn’t small. It says each reactor will provide 440MW of electricity, enough to power 450,000 homes for 60 years. That’s bigger than most old Magnox nukes. There’d also be a jump in the number of UK plants. Nuclear consultant David Lowry reckons any “proliferation in nuclear sites” ups the safety risk. And even if, as Rolls says, they’d be built on the sites of existing nuke plants, each would need its own safety approvals and security. Then there are the costs. The economics of modular reactors only work if there are lots coming off the production line. But who pays for the factory and all the start-up losses? Short answer: the taxpayer. What the Rolls consortium really means by a “clear commitment” from the government is around £2 billion to fund the factory and first reactor. Even after that, there’s the logistical headache and costs of moving bits of reactors from the factory to the assembly sites. Rolls is shooting for £40-£60/MWh after the fifth reactor. But the costs of renewables keeps dropping. And offshore wind is already getting built at £39.65/MWh. True, you can’t rely on the wind or sun every day and Britain needs an energy mix. But don’t bank on small reactors bringing nuclear nirvana.
Times 12th Nov 2020 read more »