Rolls-Royce, the British aero engine manufacturer, has launched a competition between regions of England and Wales to be the location of the main factory to build a planned fleet of small nuclear reactors.
An industry consortium led by Rolls-Royce has written to several English regional development bodies and the Welsh government asking them to present the manufacturing site, promising an investment of up to £200m and the creation of up to 200 jobs direct.
The consortium secured £210m from the government last year for the development of a fleet of mini-reactors after raising a similar amount of private sector funding. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has backed small modular reactors as part of his 10-point plan for a “green industrial revolution” to help meet the government’s 2050 net zero carbon target. The technology is seen within the government as a good way to create jobs in the manufacturing sector as well as implement Johnson’s “upgrading” program to help less developed regions.
According to plans, the reactors will be built in factories across the country and then assembled on site, reducing the risks and huge costs of building large nuclear power plants. The main plant will build the high pressure vessels that are part of the reactors.
In its pitch sent to Local Business Partnerships, voluntary bodies designed to bring together business and municipal leaders to help set local economic priorities, Rolls-Royce promised that the community chosen to host the factory would benefit from “sustainable, high-value jobs that produce products that will be exported around the world for many decades to come”.
The company added that it was looking for proposals that identified “sites based on our selection criteria in your area, along with supporting evidence or financial and non-financial support, as appropriate.”
It is believed that Rolls-Royce is not looking for money from local councils, but is interested in the type of vocational training facilities already in place, the amount of land available and local incentives for production deployment on-site renewable energy, among others. The company intends to build other smaller facilities to build modules for the reactors.
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The reactors themselves will be installed on existing nuclear sites in Britain. Rolls-Royce has not yet committed to any sites, but Wylfa and Trawsfynydd in North Wales are reportedly under consideration.
The company and its partners, including Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and the wealthy French Perrodo family, expect to decide on the location of the plant this year and begin construction soon after. They face a tight schedule if they want to stay on track to achieve their ambition of completing the first 470MW plant by the early 2030s. Along with site selection, the companies submit their design SMR to the UK’s stringent nuclear regulatory regime, a process that is expected to take up to four years.
The consortium, Rolls-Royce Small Modular Reactor, said that “the development and growth of a UK nuclear manufacturing base is central to the deployment of Rolls-Royce SMRs”.
The Department for Business said the scheme ‘supports the government’s aims to provide more options in our work towards the UK’s net zero ambitions’.