News | Published January 25 2020

Rolls-Royce develop plans for mini nuclear reactors

Rolls-Royce have told the BBC about their plans to construct, install and operate mini nuclear power stations by 2029. 

These power stations can be mass manufactured and delivered in segments, on the back of a lorry, which allows for greater understanding of their total cost.

The power system manufacturer is leading a group working to construct small modular reactors. 

They then plan to install these reactors in former nuclear sites in Wales and Cumbria. The company has announced that they plan to build between 10 and 15 stations across the UK.

Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce’s chief technology officer, explained the benefits of this construction method. He said: “The trick is to have prefabricated parts where we use advanced digital welding methods and robotic assembly and then parts are shipped to site and bolted together.”

The process has some comparisons with the construction of modular homes, which some believe may be the answer to the UK’s housing crisis.

Each reactor will be roughly 1.5 acres in size and will sit in a ten acre space. This is only 6.25 per cent the size of a regular nuclear power plant such as Hinkley Point. 

Rolls-Royce assert that the cheaper cost of construction for these power stations would lead to cheaper electricity prices.

In order to ensure these plans are cost-effective, Rolls-Royce plans to sell small modular reactors abroad, developing economies of scale.

The plans have been criticised by some environmental groups however, who argue that attention would be better spent on renewable energy. Supporters, on the other hand, say that if the UK is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, all technologies and methods must be used.

Concerns have also been raised about the actual amount of money these would reactors would save. 

Paul Dorfman, of University College London, said: “The potential cost benefits of assembly line module construction relative to custom-build on-site construction may prove overstated.

“Production line mistakes may lead to generic defects that propagate throughout an entire fleet of reactors and are costly to fix.

“It’s far more economic to build one 1.2 Gigawatt unit than a dozen 100 Megawatt units.”

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Authored by

George Salmon
Political Editor
January 25 2020

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