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Rolls-Royce seeks to open mini-nuclear reactors across Wales, the North and West Midlands by 2030

Rolls-Royce small modular reactor
Rolls-Royce small modular reactor

Small-scale nuclear reactors designed by Rolls-Royce could supply a fifth of the UK’s total electricity capacity to homes across England and Wales by the end of the decade under new plans announced by the engineer.

Rolls-Royce has identified sites at Trawsfynydd and Wylfa in Wales, Sellafield in Cumbria and Oldbury near Bristol as priorities for development of its proposed Small Modular Reactors (SMR).

The FTSE 100 engineering giant announced the shortlist following an assessment of the four former nuclear sites, concluding they are stable, large enough to house an SMR and connected to the power grid.

The company is racing to secure the sites to build about 30 of its so-called mini-nukes, which use existing nuclear technology on a smaller scale than traditional nuclear power plants. Each SMR will generate about 470MW of power each for at least 60 years.

Rolls-Royce plan, which will offer about 15GW when complete, compares to the UK’s current electricity generation base of 76.6GW, made up of wind, gas, solar and nuclear capacity.

The former nuclear sites shortlisted by Rolls-Royce are owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is weighing up bids from a number of potential SMR developers.

Tom Samson, chief executive of Rolls-Royce SMR, said: “Identifying the sites that can host our SMRs is a key step to our efficient deployment – the sooner that work can begin at site, the sooner we can deliver stable, secure supplies of low-carbon nuclear power from SMRs designed and built in the UK.”

Rolls-Royce SMR and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will need agreement from the Government before the sites can be used, Rolls said.

The company also needs consent on its reactor design from the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales.

An extra level of negotiations for Wylfa and Oldbury may be needed since they were earmarked by Hitachi for development of larger plants, which has since stalled.

Rolls-Royce plans to build three SMR factories, including a key plant to build the pressure vessels at the heart of the reactors. The plan is to build most of the components for SMRs in factories, standardising the parts and mass producing them more like a car on a production line rather than a building on a construction site.

SMRs are considered attractive as, in theory, they are cheaper to build than traditional power stations, most of which are based around bespoke designs.

Once approved in the UK, Rolls-Royce SMR, which is backed by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and other private investors, hopes to export the reactors abroad.

David Peattie, chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, said: “We’re engaging with several potential partners to explore the use of land in our estate whilst utilising the NDA’s nuclear sector expertise to support the delivery of the UK Government’s energy security strategy.”