Rolls-Royce elaborates on its SMR plans

13 June 2017

Small modular reactors (SMRs) offer the UK socio-economic benefits that would last 100 years, said John Molyneux of Rolls-Royce, but today's government must make its mind up how it wants to proceed.

Rolls-Royce's director of technology and engineering, John Molyneux gave more details on Rolls-Royce's new reactor design and the next steps in its development when speaking to the European Young Nuclear Generation Forum event in Manchester, organised by the European Nuclear Society and the UK Nuclear Institute.

Still without a publicised name, Rolls-Royce's design is a pressurized water reactor in a close-coupled four-loop configuration. A team of about 150 people have been working on it for around two years. The first months were taken with major design decisions including the use of a light-water as coolant and moderator and to select the close-coupled arrangement of steam generators as opposed to integrating them into the reactor vessel, or adopting a more spread out design similar to today's large reactors. At 450 MWe the output is higher than other innovative designs, and actually outside the usual range considered to define the SMR market of up to 300 MWe.

Molyneux said, "I do not believe light water reactors have got to the end of their evolution" and it is not necessary to move beyond them to find improvements. "It's easy to get swept away with technology, and as an engineer I'd love to. But as an industry we have to look at economics. The challenge for the industry is how you get a 40% cut in the levelised cost of electricity, to get down to what gas is at."

To complement Rolls-Royce's team, a group of ten UK companies have been recruited over the last year, including operators, turbine island designers, civil engineers, researchers and engineering consultants. Molyneux said it was "difficult to reveal who they all are, but ten organisations." Their goal is "to succeed from day one and reduce the overall cost of the station."

Rolls-Royce is prepared to lead a national design consortium, and invest accordingly, said Molyneux, but the units "would have to sell, and sell internationally". Industry needs government support funding to get to the "critical design stage where the design becomes easily investable from a straight commercial perspective", he said. Having been on track to declare a strategy and select technologies for development funding, the UK SMR program stalled in the face of the Brexit vote a year ago, while uncertainty has continues even after last week's general election. "Government needs to decide whether it wants SMRs; if they do, what technology solution they are after."

For Rolls-Royce, the primary market would be the UK where up to about 7 GWe of small units could be deployed, probably at existing nuclear power sites. "The UK market is important," Molyneux said "but to really make them fly you have to look internationally so support from the UK government to international markets becomes really important" requiring further long-term political commitment. Molyneux said he expects strong competition from Chinese, Russian and US offerings to mean that Europe and the Middle East would be more likely sales targets for Rolls-Royce. According to a study by the UK National Nuclear Laboratory, those areas could see 4400 MWe and 5200 MWe of small units, respectively.

Should the UK succeed in becoming a reactor vendor again, the socio-economic benefits are enormous, said Molyneux. Up to 40,000 jobs could be created in the years 2030-2050 and a total benefit to the UK economy of GBP 188 billion ($239 billion) spread across a century.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News