Building small nuclear reactors around the United Kingdom would help lower the country’s CO2 emissions. Better yet: it would also create 6,000 jobs within five years.
So says the engineering company Rolls Royce, which is part of a consortium pushing for government investment in 16 small modular reactors (SMRs) to serve as local power stations that could each provide up to 440MW of electricity in their locations around the country.
The electricity generated by each reactor would suffice to power 450,000 homes in an urban area over a reactor’s planned lifespan of six decades. Rolls Royce has already designed two prototype reactors, which could complement renewables such as solar and wind wherever they are deployed.
“We have developed a manufacturing and assembly process that will make reliable, low-carbon nuclear power affordable, deliverable and investable,” said Tom Samson, interim chief executive of the UK SMR Consortium, which is pushing for the deployment of SMRs in the country.
“By creating a factory-built power station that rolls off the assembly line we have radically reduced many construction risks associated with new nuclear power stations; and by using proven nuclear technology alongside standardised and simplified components, we make it much more cheaply,” Samson added.
Reportedly, the UK’s government is planning to commit up to £2 billion as part of a plan for the country to meet its target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The UK’s current fleet of 15 nuclear reactors at seven locations generate a fifth of the country’s electricity. However, six of the sites are expected to get offline by 2030 with the last one planned to be decommissioned by 2035.
Many energy experts see SMRs as ideal for providing ample low-carbon electricity. SMRs can be prefabricated in a factory from modules and deployed to various geographical locations, even comparatively remote ones, with relative ease. They are also far cheaper than traditional nuclear plants.
Small nuclear reactors were first developed in the 1950s for nuclear-powered submarines and Rolls-Royce has over the decades designed reactors for various types of nuclear-powered submarines.
The company’s aim in deploying SMRs rather than traditional reactors is to reduce the high costs associated with traditional reactors. The reason they are “so expensive is that the projects are huge and complex and have to meet very high safety standards,” the BBC notes.
“And, because so few new nuclear power stations are built, there are very few opportunities to learn from mistakes,” it adds. “So, Rolls-Royce and its partners are saying: let’s make them smaller and make lots of them so that we get really good at it.”
By rolling off SMRs one after another from an assembly line, Rolls Royce could “dramatically reduce the amount of construction that would be associated with a nuclear project,” according to Tom Samson.
“If we move all that activity into a controlled factory environment that drives down cost by simplification and standardisation,” he said.
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