Engine maker Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium proposing new 'mini' nuclear power plants
An important report assessing the viability of new “mini” nuclear power plants for the UK to be published this week is expected to give the green light to develop designs proposed by a British consortium led by Rolls-Royce.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is set to issue a study which formally ends a competition between different types of low-carbon power generation to assess which should be supported.
Industry sources say a concurrent Techno-Economic Assessment for the government by EY concludes that designs for small nuclear reactors (SMRs) from the Rolls consortium are the more likely to succeed.
It is understood that rival proposals using US designs for “integral reactors” have been assessed as being harder to manufacture and maintain and not commercially viable.
A different concept from the Rolls consortium - which helped invent the integrated design in the 1980s but abandoned it for similar reasons in favour of a different concept - is expected to get the nod for development from BEIS.
A fleet of these SMRs could be cheaply produced to guarantee Britain’s energy supply, with hopes that the technology could be exported worldwide.
SMRs are a fraction of the size and cost of conventional nuclear plants. They are likely to be funded from the £250m pledged by the Government in 2015 to develop “innovative nuclear technologies” which would help the country hit climate change targets.
Studies from the nuclear industry claim Britain could take the lead in an estimated £450bn global industry if the country establishes itself as a leader in SMR technology.
A study published by the Rolls consortium - which includes Laing O’Rourke, Arup and Amec Foster Wheeler and which was reviewed by the Royal Academy of Engineering - called SMRs the “best opportunity” for the next generation of UK reactors.
The research claimed that once mature, SMR technology will deliver power at £60 per megawatt hour. This compares with £92.50 per megawatt hour slated for the giant Hinkley Point power station, which uses a conventional large reactor design.
A Whitehall source said: “The report is not good for those companies who are committed to integral SMRs.
“Rolls has been involved with this technology in the past and realised it is not designed with the energy utility in mind because it simply isn’t commercially investible.
“It also looks as if the Government has come to this view and is pursuing detailed talks with the Rolls-led SMR consortium.”
A spokesman for BEIS said: “We are currently considering next steps for the SMR programme and we will communicate these in due course.”
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