Small Modular Reactors

UK / Rolls-Royce Begins Generic Design Assessment Process For 470-MW SMR Design

By David Dalton
17 November 2021

Engineering giant wants new generation reactors to be deployed in early 2030s
Rolls-Royce Begins Generic Design Assessment Process For 470-MW SMR Design
Rolls-Royce said its first SMRs could be available to the UK grid in the early 2030s. Courtesy Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce SMR Ltd, which last week announced it had raised £450m in funding from investors and the government, has submitted its 470-MW small modular reactor design for entry to the UK’s generic design assessment (GDA) regulatory process.

The company said the first step is to secure clearance from the department for business, energy and industrial strategy through its initial screening process. This will confirm the Rolls-Royce SMR business is qualified to enter the GDA process, which is run jointly by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, Natural Resources Wales and Environment Agency.

This initial screening process reviews whether a company has the capability and capacity to enter the GDA process. The government evaluation is expected to take up to four months before the regulators can begin their formal review process.

Helena Perry, regulatory and safety affairs director at Rolls-Royce SMR, said: “This is an important moment for the nuclear industry, as a UK SMR reactor design enters the initial process for regulatory approval for the first time. We have already made 270 design decisions during our pre-licensing engagement and are confident of working with the experienced regulatory teams to deliver an efficient GDA process.’

The GDA process is expected to take four to five years, during which time, Rolls-Royce SMR will engage in a range of parallel activities, including factory development, siting and commercial discussions.

Ms Perry said: “We will have around 300 people working full time on these important regulatory processes. Both the industry and regulators have learnt a great deal from previous GDA processes and we will integrate those lessons into the collaborative approach we will take with the UK regulators.”

Rolls-Royce said last week that it had established the Rolls-Royce SMR business to deploy SMRs that could be available to the UK grid in the early 2030s.

The new business has been formed with investors BNF Resources and the US generator Exelon Generation with a joint investment of £195m to fund the plans over the next three years.

The government will match the consortium’s investment, which is set to receive a second phase top-up of £50m from Rolls-Royce, with £210m to help roll out the SMRs as part of the government’s green 10-point plan, announced in December 2020, to kickstart the green economy over the next decade.

The 10-point plan included investing £525m to help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants, and research and develop new advanced modular reactors.

The new Rolls-Royce SMR business, which will continue to look for further investment, will now push ahead with identifying sites for the factories which will manufacture the modules that enable onsite assembly of the power plants.

Discussions will continue with the government on long-term investment in the project. “Rolls-Royce SMR is engaging with export customers across many continents who need this technology to meet their own net zero commitments,” a statement said.

Rolls-Royce has promised to “harness decades of British engineering, design and manufacturing knowhow” to roll out the first of its SMRs, which are based on a similar technology used to propel nuclear submarines.

Each of the initial run of reactors is expected to have a generation capacity of 470 MW, or enough to power the equivalent of 1.3m UK homes, and cost about £2.2bn per unit dropping to £1.8bn by the time five have been completed. This means it will be comparable with offshore wind at around £50/MWh. A single SMR power station will occupy the footprint of two football pitches.

Rolls-Royce said the potential for this to be a leading global export for the UK is unprecedented. Nine-tenths of an individual Rolls-Royce SMR power plant will be built or assembled in factory conditions and around 80% could be delivered by a UK supply chain.

Much of the venture’s investment is expected to be focused in the north of the UK, where there is significant existing nuclear expertise.

Rolls-Royce said its SMR can support both on-grid electricity and off-grid clean energy solutions, enabling the decarbonisation of industrial processes and the production of clean fuels, such as sustainable aviation fuels and green hydrogen.

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