Low-cost nuclear challenge

Rolls-Royce SMR design, credit: Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce SMR design, credit: Rolls-Royce

To help the UK commitment to net zero, new sources of low carbon base power will be needed at an affordable cost to the consumer. Creating those future technologies and viable options is an important role for UKRI.

This challenge aims to develop a compact, standardised nuclear power station product based around a UK-designed small modular reactor (SMR), using modern mass production methodology.

This innovative approach means that SMR nuclear generators can be built quickly by the UK supply chain, enabling new SMRs to be deployed in the UK by the early 2030s.

These units will be capable of producing cost-competitive low-carbon electricity, creating significant export opportunities for UK businesses.

Small modular reactors

These small power stations will create low-cost, low-carbon electricity for up to 60 years. Each unit built will produce 470 megawatts of electricity each hour, which is enough to power 1,000,000 homes: equivalent to a city the size of Leeds.

SMRs have lower capital costs because their smaller size means they can be manufactured in pre-tested modular sections in dedicated factories and assembled on site with greater efficiency. This new approach can reduce construction times so that essential electrical energy is delivered to the UK grid faster.

Progress so far

We have awarded £18 million in ISCF funding to a UK-based consortium led by Rolls-Royce, with matched funding of £18 million from industry. This first phase was formally concluded on 30th June 2021. and successfully developed a concept design.

Next steps

Following the delivery of phase one, the second phase will be a £210 million grant from the UK government matched by private sector funding of over £250m to develop this exciting technology.

This second phase started in November 2021.

Phase two will further develop the concept reactor design enough to allow it to pass through the Office of Nuclear Regulation generic design assessment (GDA) process.

The goal is to progress the technology to a stage where it can further attract private investors and help establish the UK as an international leader in nuclear SMR manufacturing.

In return, the UK SMR programme will, by 2050:

  • return £52 billion of value to the UK economy if a full fleet of 16 power stations is built
  • generate a £250 billion export market with job creation of up to 40,000 high-value jobs
  • rejuvenate UK manufacturing communities in the north of England and north Wales.

Read the news announcement: Over £200 million grant to Rolls-Royce small nuclear reactors.

Further information

This challenge aligns with the Nuclear Sector Deal (2018) and government’s Advanced Nuclear Technologies framework, which can provide the supporting policy framework for encouraging new nuclear technologies.

Read more about UKRI’s business funding opportunities and networking initiatives.

Read about the low-cost nuclear phase two grant award to Rolls-Royce SMR Ltd.

Last updated: 27 June 2022

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