Plans pass first stage of atomic regulator’s generic design assessment

Rolls-Royce’s design for a type of mini nuclear reactor that proponents say could be built more quickly and cheaply than a full-scale plant has passed the first step towards regulatory approval. 

The Environment Agency, Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and Natural Resources Wales, have announced that the firm’s proposals for a 470MW small modular reactor (SMR) will progress to the next stage of the generic design assessment (GDA). 


Source: HM Treasury

The Spring Budget saw the launch of an international competition for small modular reactor designs

The government said in last year’s energy security strategy that SMRs would form a “key part” of its efforts to generate 24GW of energy from nuclear power by 2050. 

Rolls-Royce’s reactor passed step one of the GDA a year after they were submitted and just weeks after the UK government launched an international competition to find the most promising SMR designs. 

Great British Nuclear, the new body set up to oversee the revival of atomic energy, will run the competition, which is intended to be completed by the end of the year. 

Details on new financing have yet to be announced, but the government has committed to co-fund the winning bids if they are “demonstrated to be viable”. 

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Rolls-Royce has reportedly been frustrated by the government’s reluctance to sign off on orders for the technology until it has been approved by the ONR. 

While the FTSE 100-listed company will no doubt be a front-runner, the competition launch appears to confirm that the government could yet back an alternative supplier, despite having supported Rolls’ SMR business set up with a £210m grant. 

Start-up Newcleo has raised £900m to back its entry into the market, while US energy firm Holtec is already working with the UK’s biggest contractor, Balfour Beatty, to figure out how its own designs could be built. 

Rolls-Royce’s has said its SMR would be roughly a tenth the size and cost of full-scale reactors and would generate around 470MW of power, equivalent to more than 150 onshore wind turbines and enough to power one million homes. 

In December, the company announced three potential locations for a factory where its SMRs would be built before being transported to site by road. 

It is expected to make a decision shortly between the International Advanced Manufacturing Park on Sunderland and South Tyneside, Teesworks on Teesside and Gateway on Deeside 

Wylfa Newydd, Trawsfynydd, Oldbury and Sellafield, have been prioritised as potential sites for the site of the SMRs themselves. 

The second stage of the GDA for Rolls-Royce SMR is expected to take 16 months.