Potential delay to small nuclear reactor rollout

January 9, 2023

Concerns have been raised that the rollout of small modular reactors (SMRs) in the UK could be delayed due to funding challenges.

According to The Times, a funding deal for the first fleet of mini nuclear reactors is not expected to materialise for at least another 12 months, with a row ongoing in government over the cost of Britain’s wider nuclear ambitions.

Going forward, SMRs, alongside large-scale nuclear plants, are seen as a crucial tool in the country’s battle against the energy crisis and drive towards net zero. The government established a new body called Great British Nuclear (GBN) in conjunction with the release of its energy security strategy with the aim of facilitating the growth of nuclear power on the grid.

However Whitehall sources have now revealed that there remains uncertainty over the government’s SMR investment plans.

Rolls-Royce has called for ministers to enter funding talks and start placing orders. The firm is planning on building SMR power stations and recently announced three shortlisted locations for its proposed factory and four potential sites for the SMR plants themselves.

The Rolls-Royce SMR power stations will have the capacity to generate 470 MW of low carbon energy. In October the NDA announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Cwmni Egino to support their development of the project at Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia.

However a senior government source said the Treasury would not sign off on any orders or significant funding until the technology gains Office for Nuclear Regulation approval, which is not expected until 2024

Rolls-Royce is developing and designing its SMRs in conjunction with Atkins. The project recieved £210M backing from the UK government last year, with over £250M more coming from private sources including Qatar’s wealth fund.

Balfour Beatty also recently signed an agreement to help support the planning advancement for the construction of a new Holtec SMR – an SMR-160 pressurised light-water reactor. Holtec has also announced three potential sites with existing nuclear power stations suitable for hosting its SMR-160s. These are Trawsfynydd, Heysham and Oldbury.

Rolls Royce SMR consortium chair Paul Stein 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.”

A BEIS source said: “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 GBN.”