The EPR fiasco, that of Flamanville (Manche) in the lead, demonstrated it: new generation nuclear power plants are enormous, overpriced and plagued by repeated construction delays. To try to get around the problem, the industry is pushing for the manufacture of “mini-power plants”, less expensive and easier to build. The UK has just taken a step in this direction. Monday, November 8, Rolls-Royce announced the creation of a company to manufacture “small modular reactors” (SMR, for small modular reactor, in English), hoping for a first commissioning in the early 2030s.
This new British company, 80% owned by Rolls-Royce, with BNF Resources UK and the American Exelon Generation as minority shareholders, will invest 195 million pounds sterling (around 230 million euros) over three years, to which will add £ 210million in UK government funding. This represents a total of almost half a billion euros to develop mini-reactors that will still produce 470 megawatts (other SMR projects around the world are generally smaller). Enough to provide electricity to 1 million homes, three times less than what the power of an EPR allows. Its price is estimated at 2.2 billion pounds initially, five times less than an EPR.
Rolls-Royce plans to build up to sixteen mini-reactors in the United Kingdom, on land where nuclear power plants already exist, or old ones, now shut down. However, the site promises to be long. We will have to start by getting the green light from the Nuclear Safety Authority, which should take four years. At best, the first plant will not come into operation until 2031.
This British investment is highlighted as part of the fight against global warming. Boris Johnson’s government wants to develop wind power as a priority, especially at sea, but it needs a carbon-free electricity production base when the wind is not blowing. For this, large-scale nuclear power plants are being developed: two EPR units are under construction at Hinkley Point C, in the west of England, and two others are under study at Sizewell, in the east of the country. Mini-reactors must complete the system.
A “turnkey” technology
In November 2020, the British Prime Minister announced the launch of public funding to develop British technology SMRs. The Rolls-Royce announcement, while the 26e United Nations climate conference (COP26) currently taking place in Glasgow (Scotland), constitutes the logical outcome of this policy.
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In the United Kingdom, Rolls-Royce launches into nuclear “mini-power plants”