UK plans a fleet of small nuclear reactors to fight energy crisis

The country is looking into proposals for small modular nuclear reactor technologies.
Baba Tamim
SMR-160 reactor design by Holtec International.
SMR-160 reactor design by Holtec International.

Holtec International 

The U.K.'s desire to expand nuclear energy as greener power has gone beyond its November acquisition of China's nuclear power plant and a 50 percent share in the company planning the megaproject on England's east coast.

The government is also looking for proposals from teams in the construction and development sectors for small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) technologies, according to a report published by Engineering News-Record on Friday. 

"The United Kingdom is at a turning point as it navigates through this energy crisis," said Richard M. Springman, senior vice president of Holtec International.

"It will need multiple, complementary nuclear power plant designs based on proven pressurized water reactor technology already operating ... to assure carbon-free energy security in ten years, and we have to start now."

The agreement 

In a December 19 announcement, London-based Balfour Beatty said it had reached an agreement with Hyundai Engineering and Construction and the British division of Jupiter, Florida.-based nuclear energy company Holtec International.

The pact is to support the engineering and construction of the U.S. developer's SMR-160 pressurized light-water reactor in Britain, which would produce 160 MW of power and could make Balfour Beatty one of the first U.K. contractors to build an SMR in Britain.

"We look forward to working with Holtec International to drive forward clean energy solutions," said Stephen Tarr, Chief Executive Officer for Transport, Energy & Power Major Projects at Balfour Beatty. 

"Our partnership will build on our long-standing experience and expertise in delivering nuclear projects and will ultimately support the U.K.'s transition towards a Net Zero future."  

The government's optional design acceptance process, which addresses waste management, environmental protection, and reactor safety, and security, will be introduced by Holtec the following year. However, the site-specific plant licensing procedure is distinct from this one.

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Construction on the first unit is expected to begin in 2028, and by the year 2050, the company aims to have 32 SMR units operational, totaling 5.1 GW of capacity.

As per the contract, "the parties will develop the division of responsibilities for procurement, construction, and commissioning of SMR-160 plants in the U.K.," according to Holtec. 

Additionally, they will also "jointly develop a cost estimate for [the] deployment of the SMR-160 in the U.K. based on Holtec's standard design."

Gareth Thomas, director of Holtec Britain, stated that the company has found three possible locations in the U.K.—two in England and one in Wales—that would be ideal for hosting "the first wave of Holtec SMR-160s."

Rolls Royse rolls-in 

Rolls-Royce also declared on December 19 that the company considered three locations to erect factories that would manufacture parts for the fleet of small modular reactors (SMR) to be made in the U.K. 

"The heavy pressure vessels (HPV) factory will produce components for a fleet" of SMRs, according to the announcement. 

"This is part of the process to build the first of at least three factories that will manufacture components for a fleet of small modular reactors and will present an incredible opportunity for a region of the U.K.," said Tom Samson, SMR Chief Executive at Rolls-Royce. 

"Our power stations will be built in British factories situated in the north of England or Wales and will generate tens of thousands of long-term highly skilled jobs - accelerating regional economic growth."

"A fleet of Rolls-Royce SMR power stations" will improve the U.K.'s energy security and contribute to net zero targets by generating low-carbon electricity from a sustainable source for future generations, claimed the company. 

Other companies announcing candidacy

The North Carolina-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, which recently announced the filing of a design assessment application for regulatory approval, is another candidate that plans to deploy SMRs in Britain.

The company said that it wanted to build its 300 MW BWRX-300 facility, which would make use of some of G.E.'s more advanced boiling-water reactor technology.

Another U.S. compact reactor company, NuScale Power Corp., which was the first to receive design approval from the U.S., plans to introduce its technology in the U.K. as well.

However, most of these technology companies are keeping an eye on how economic turbulence is affecting project development costs and progress, as are other developers and market observers.