Rolls-Royce announces shortlist for SMR nuclear factory

Plans for fleet of mini nuclear power stations take step forward with sites on Tyneside, Teesside, and Deeside named on factory shortlist

Rolls-Royce’s plans to develop a new generation of small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear power plants in the UK took another step forward with the publication of a shortlist for the location of its first factory.

The International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) in Sunderland and South Tyneside, the Teesworks site on Teesside, and the Gateway site on Deeside have made it onto the list to become the home for the first heavy pressure vessels (HPV) factory, which would produce components for a fleet of SMRs to be designed and built in the UK.

Tom Samson, chief executive of Rolls-Royce’s SMR arm, said he wanted to “thank everyone involved in the selection process and offer my congratulations to the three that have made the final shortlist”.

“This is part of the process to build the first of at least three factories that will manufacture components for a fleet of small modular reactors and will present an incredible opportunity for a region of the UK,” he said. “Our power stations will be built in British factories situated in the north of England or Wales and will generate tens of thousands of long-term highly skilled jobs – accelerating regional economic growth.”

The decision on the location will be made early next year after final evaluations and detailed assessments are made against the requirements and criteria for the factory, the company said.

Negotiations to finalise plans for the selected site will then be initiated only when Rolls-Royce SMR has entered formal discussions on deployment of the planned SMRs with the government.

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, hailed the shortlist as a huge vote of confidence for the North from Rolls-Royce SMR. “Once government negotiates a deal to underpin the necessary private investment, we should be able to build a fleet of power stations across the UK, using cutting edge, homegrown technology,” he said. “The green industrial revolution – with Small Modular Reactor technology at its heart – is our once-in-a-generation opportunity to put the North at the forefront of the transition to net zero, creating thousands of well-paid, skilled jobs and turbocharging our productivity.”

Tom Greatrex, chief executive at the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) similarly welcomed the latest step forward for the UK’s SMR plans. “There is real momentum growing for SMRs in the UK,” he said. “Building a fleet of these reactors with bring high-quality, skilled jobs, long term investment and opportunity and help strengthen the country’s energy security, with firm, clean, British power.”

The government has said it wants to see the UK lead the world in the development of new SMR technologies and in 2021 announced £210m of funding to support Rolls-Royce SMR’s plans.

However, the development of the proposed fleet of new reactors will rely on regulatory approval, planning consent, and the finalisation of some form of subsidy regime for the initial projects.

The nuclear industry is confident SMRs have the potential to drive down costs and accelerate development timelines across an industry that is notorious for its project and budget over-runs. Rolls-Royce SMR has also stressed that as the only SMR in Europe currently in the regulatory process, its project presents an enormous opportunity to export a leading British technology around the globe.

However, critics maintain that the first generation of SMRs is likely to prove hugely expensive and will be subject to many of the same development risks that have dogged larger nuclear projects.