Rolls-Royce, the UK aero-engine maker, has launched a competition between regions in 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 of England’s regional development bodies and the Welsh government asking them to pitch for the manufacturing site, promising investment of up to £200m and the creation of up to 200 direct jobs.
The consortium secured £210m from the government last year towards the development of a fleet of mini-reactors after raising a similar amount of private sector funding. UK prime minister Boris Johnson 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 viewed within the government as a good way to create manufacturing jobs as well as delivering on Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda to help less developed areas.
Under the plans, the reactors will be built in factories around the country and then assembled on site, reducing the risks and huge costs of construction of big nuclear power plants. The main factory will build the heavy pressure vessels that are part of the reactors.
In its pitch sent to the Local Enterprise Partnerships, voluntary bodies designed to bring business and council leaders together to help set local economic priorities, Rolls-Royce promised that the community chosen to host the factory would benefit from “high value, sustainable jobs which will produce products that will be exported globally for many decades to come”.
The company added that it was looking for proposals that identified “sites based on our selection criteria in your region together with supporting evidence or financial and non- financial support where appropriate”.
Rolls-Royce is not believed to be looking for cash from local councils but is interested in what sort of skills training facilities already exist, how much land is available and local incentives for the deployment of on-site renewable power generation among other things. The company intends to build other, smaller facilities to build modules for the reactors.
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The reactors themselves will be installed at existing nuclear sites in Britain. Rolls-Royce has not yet committed to any sites but Wylfa and Trawsfynydd in north Wales are believed to be under consideration.
The company and its partners, which include Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and France’s wealthy Perrodo family, expect to decide on where to locate the factory this year and to start construction soon after. They face a tight timetable if they are to stay on track to meet their ambition to complete the first 470MW plant by the early 2030s. Alongside the site selection, the companies are putting their SMR design through the UK’s rigorous nuclear regulatory regime, a process that is expected to take up to four years.
The consortium, Rolls-Royce Small Modular Reactor, said the “development and growth of a UK nuclear manufacturing base is core to the deployment of Rolls-Royce SMRs”.
The department for business said the programme “supports government objectives to provide further optionality in our work towards the UK’s net zero ambitions”.