UK-based Sheffield Forgemasters has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with US X-energy and Cavendish Nuclear (a UK subsidiary of Babcock International) to explore opportunities around the deployment of a fleet of Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) in the UK.
The Xe-100 HTGR design has a thermal output of 200 MWt or an electrical output of 80 MWe. It was one of two designs selected by DOE in 2020 to receive $80m each of initial cost-shared funding to build an advanced reactor demonstration plant that can be operational within seven years. The Xe-100 evolved from both the UK’s Dragon reactor at Winfrith in Dorset and the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project in South Africa. It will use TRIstructural ISOtropic (TRISO) fuel comprising three layers of carbon and ceramic materials that surround kernels or balls of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel. The Xe-100 is designed to operate as a standard 320 MWe plant with four units of 80 MWe but will be scalable to meet demand. Producing 200 MWt of 565°C steam, the Xe-100 is also suitable for other power applications including mining and heavy industry.
X-energy and Cavendish Nuclear will make use of Sheffield Forgemasters' extensive experience in developing nuclear forgings and castings. The companies plan to build up to 40 Xe-100s across the UK. In 2022, Cavendish Nuclear signed an MOU with X-energy to act as its deployment partner for HTGRs in the UK. The companies have applied to the UK's Future Nuclear Enabling Fund to support a Generic Design Assessment of the Xe-100 small modular reactor (SMR) and also supply chain development for the first proposed project.
"The UK's civil nuclear development is part of our business strategy and this MoU is the latest in a line of agreements that we have signed with a number of SMR companies looking to deploy in the UK market," said Dominic Ashmore, Head of Strategy & Business Development - Clean Energy at Sheffield Forgemasters.
He added: "Our work with X-Energy and Cavendish Nuclear will provide specialist engineering services, support and components including forgings, to the UK Xe-100 deployment programme," he added. "Sheffield Forgemasters will undertake a detailed review of the Xe-100 forgings and look to facilitate more definitive cost estimates and production plans."
He noted that, following the recent decision of Great British Nuclear (GBN) to boost UK nuclear power generation through SMR development, “GBN is also developing a route to market for other technologies, including advanced nuclear and a consultation will be published this autumn”.
In December 2021, former UK Energy Minister Greg Hands announced that HTGRs had been selected as the preferred advanced reactor technology for the Advanced Modular Reactor Research, Development & Demonstration Programme. The programme is expecting £170m ($210m) of government funding from £385m intended to accelerate development of highly flexible nuclear technologies.
Carol Tansley, Vice President of UK Nuclear New Build at X-Energy said: "Our technology will be the first small modular reactor operational in the US and we want to build on that progress by moving forward quickly with our UK programme. In delivering that fleet we want to maximise the involvement of the UK supply chain as part of our target to achieve 80% by value UK content, and the MOU with a company with the experience and capabilities of Sheffield Forgemasters is a crucial step in that journey."
She added: “A UK fleet of 40 reactors would not only see us play a crucial role in delivering clean electricity and industrial decarbonisation but also bring huge opportunities for companies right across the UK. The MoU, along with our partnership with Cavendish Nuclear and our recent appointment of Howden, shows how we are determined to ensure those benefits are realised by the UK’s world-leading supply chain.”
Image: Artist’s impression of an Xe-100 power plant