Rolls-Royce boss earmarks 2029 for production of small nuclear reactors

Focus on atomic energy would boost 'global Britain' and ease energy concerns, says Tom Sampson

Rolls-Royce, perhaps better known for its stately cars and plane engines, is planning to use expertise to build small nuclear reactors, also known as Advanced Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Photo: Rolls-Royce

The boss of Rolls-Royce has said the company could create its first small nuclear reactors by 2029 as long as planning barriers are removed by the UK government.

Speaking in the British Parliament, the engineering company's chief executive Tom Sampson demanded greater government action and commitment to help its ambition of creating reactors within the next decade.

Britain will outline its strategy for energy security on Thursday, with reports suggesting nuclear energy will play a greater role, as will renewables such as solar and wind power.

Energy prices have surged across the UK since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The crisis has spurred authorities to bolster Britain's energy independence and commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050.

Rolls-Royce, better known for its stately cars and plane engines, is planning to use its considerable manufacturing know-how to build small nuclear reactors, also known Advanced Small Modular Reactors.

SMRs can be made in factories, with parts small enough to be transported on lorries and barges and assembled more quickly and cheaply than large-scale reactors. It is hoped that these cheaper-to-build reactors could provide vast amounts of energy to help Britain realise its climate-change goals.

Mr Sampson said he had written to the prime minister “outlining how by removing many of the planning barriers and obstacles and by giving us a green light to proceed as quickly as possible” Rolls-Royce could have a reactor operating by 2029.

SMR parts can be assembled more quickly than those of large-scale nuclear reactors. Photo: Rolls-Royce

He called for "commitment, action and decisions as opposed to ambition, targets and aspirations".

"Because we need to make decisions today if we're to bring clean energy to the grid in the next 10 years," he said.

Addressing the House of Lords' economic affairs committee, Mr Sampson said the creation and export of these reactors would help to boost Britain's brand abroad.

"Not only does it improve security supply domestically, not only does it offer levelling up benefits by building factories to produce content in the UK, it's also a global Britain export, and we see huge demand," he said.

Mr Sampson said he saw an "enormous" potential market for the technology and expected to sell many hundreds of units by 2050.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Tom Samson, chief executive officer of Rolls-Royce. Photo: No 10 Downing Street

It is claimed that each mini-plant can power about one million homes and Rolls-Royce has forecast the SMR business could create up to 40,000 jobs.

It was announced this year that Britain’s Office for Nuclear Regulation had been asked to begin a Generic Design Assessment for Rolls-Royce SMR Ltd’s 470 megawatt design.

“The assessment will begin once the necessary arrangements around timescales and resources have been put in place,” the ONR said.

A GDA is the formal process for approving a new nuclear reactor. This is the first time a small-scale reactor has been assessed by regulator in Britain.

Updated: April 07, 2022, 12:20 PM
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