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UK Plans To Become A Global Centre For Small Nuclear Reactors: Can It Succeed?

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Dan Yurman, Energy Post

In addition to its plans for building four huge nuclear power stations, the UK government has also announced it wants to become a global centre for the development and manufacturing of small modular reactors (SMRs).

Dan Yurman, nuclear expert and publisher of the blog NeutronBytes, assesses the UK’s plans and concludes that it could succeed, but only if the UK is able to scale up its efforts sufficiently and if the government provides active policy support. 

While NuScale and Westinghouse are targeting construction of their first-of-a-kind units in the UK by 2025, the real challenge will be to book enough orders to bring investors to the table to build factories to turn out SMRs on a cost effective production line basis. There isn’t enough of a market within the UK itself to generate these orders. This means both firms likely see the UK as a launch pad to gain market share in Europe and the Middle East.

Replacement of aging coal fired power plants in places like Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe represent possible market opportunities. The primary reason is that a 50 MW, or even a 225 MW, SMR is still orders of magnitude cheaper than a 1000 MW unit. Plus, the first unit can, with its revenue, pay for the second, and so on.

The advantage for the UK is that it could develop a major export market for SMRs which will also generate jobs not only for direct manufacturing of the units, but also stimulate a second round of employment and growth with the supply chain for the production of reactors by the primary vendors.

Everything depends on both NuScale and Westinghouse passing through the gauntlet of the UK’s notoriously complicated and expensive generic design review process to certify the safety of their reactors. Both firms have made optimistic estimates of how long this will take. However, like the famous line from the movie “Princess Bride,” they may have to be prepared to be disappointed. Breaking ground by 2025 for either vendor may still be feasible, but new land speed records for bureaucratic action may have to be set in the process.

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