Paul Stein, the chairman of Rolls-Royce SMR, a subsidiary of the FTSE 100 engineering company, said he hoped the reactors would be providing power to the UK’s national grid by 2029.
SMRs can be built in factories, a method that could be cheaper and quicker than traditional designs. The technology, based on the reactors used in nuclear submarines, is seen by Rolls-Royce as a potential earner far beyond any previous business such as jet engines or diesel motors.
The government under prime minister Boris Johnson put nuclear power at the centre of its energy strategy announced earlier this month, in response to climate concerns and a desire to ditch Russian gas.
The strategy said up to eight more nuclear reactors could be delivered on existing sites as the government aims to boost UK energy independence, wean the country off expensive fossil fuels and tackle rising prices.
Earlier this month the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation announced in conjunction with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales the start of the generic design assessment (GDA) for Rolls-Royce SMR Limited’s 470-MW SMR design.
The GDA process is expected to take four to five years, during which time, Rolls-Royce SMR will engage in a range of parallel activities, including factory development, siting and commercial discussions.
Rolls-Royce established the Rolls-Royce SMR business to deploy SMRs that could be available to the UK grid by the end of the decade.
The new business was formed with investors BNF Resources and the US generator Exelon Generation with a joint investment of £195m to fund the plans over the next three years.
The government will match the consortium’s investment, which is set to receive a second phase top-up of £50m from Rolls-Royce, with £210m to help roll out the SMRs as part of the government’s 10-point plan, announced in December 2020, to kickstart the green economy over the next decade.
The 10-point plan included investing £525m to help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants, and research and develop new advanced modular reactors.
Rolls-Royce has promised to “harness decades of British engineering, design and manufacturing knowhow” to roll out the first of its SMRs, which are based on a similar technology used to propel nuclear submarines.
Each of the initial run of reactors is expected to have a generation capacity of 470 MW, or enough to power the equivalent of 1.3m UK homes, and cost about £2.2bn per unit, dropping to £1.8bn by the time five have been completed. This means it will be comparable with offshore wind at around £50/MWh. A single SMR power station will occupy the footprint of two football pitches.