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UK launches competition for small, modular nuclear reactors

The cost for each SMR is expected to be around £2 billion, and Rolls Royce estimates it will generate £250 million in exports. Image Courtesy: Rolls-Royce

Britain has launched a competition to develop small modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs, even as it set up an authority to expand nuclear projects across the country.

Interested companies will be allowed to register their interest, and the newly-set up Great British Nuclear body will screen technologies to select those that meet criteria later this year. Selected companies can then begin discussions with the government.

The UK plans to increase nuclear power capacity to 24 gigawatts by 2050, capable of meeting 25 percent of the nation's electricity demand, up from 14 percent at present. But large new nuclear plants have high upfront costs and raise accident concerns, prompting the government to shift towards smaller reactors built faster and cheaper in factories.

Britain had announced a competition for SMRs in 2015, but closed the same in 2017 without moving beyond the first stage of information gathering. In 2021, the country committed £210 million to Rolls-Royce for the latter's £500 million SMR programme.

Rolls-Royce SMR has said that its reactors would occupy only about 10 percent of the size of a conventional nuclear plant. It estimates a single SMR would have generation capacity of 470 MW, equivalent to 150 wind turbines, and be able to power around a million homes.

The cost for each SMR is expected to be around £2 billion, and Rolls Royce says it estimates the company reactors will generate £250 million in exports.

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