Six nuclear designs will advance to the next phase of the UK’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) competition, a fast-track measure that could result in a government contract within the next 10 months as part of a strategy to deliver operational SMRs by the mid-2030s.
EDF, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), Holtec Britain, NuScale Power, Rolls Royce SMR, and Westinghouse Electric Company UK will vie for the next stage of the competitive process. The companies will be invited to bid for government contracts later this year with successful companies announced in spring next year and contracts awarded in summer,” the UK government said on Oct. 2.
The design selections were unveiled by the UK government and Great British Nuclear (GBN), a government-backed entity launched as part of the UK’s March 2023 Powering Up Britain policy. While GBN operates under the government’s repurposed nuclear energy and fuels firm British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), the UK has tasked the entity with driving delivery of new nuclear projects in line with the country’s ambitions to ramp up its nuclear capacity to up to 24 GW by 2050.
The World’s ‘Fastest’ SMR Competition
To keep with the government’s action plan, GBN embarked on its first priority, kickstarting a competition to select the “best” SMRs from around the world on July 18. As part of that process, it says it wrapped up “market intelligence gathering” in June 2023. Its technology “initial down selection” concluded on Monday.
The next phase, which is slated to launch “as soon as possible,” will entail choosing successful technologies that could be ready to enable a final investment decision (FID) by 2029. The selected nuclear designs are “the most able to deliver operational SMRs by the mid-2030s,” the government noted. A contract could “entail funding to support technology development and site-specific design; a close partnership with GBN, which will be ready and able to provide developer capability; and support in accessing sites,” the government has said.
The UK expects to announce which of the six companies it will support in spring 2024, and it anticipates awarding contracts by summer 2024. “This timetable aims to make this competition the fastest of its kind in the world,” it noted.
UK SMR Competition: Who’s In the Running?
Westinghouse Electric’s AP300. Westinghouse told POWER its selection on Monday is for its AP300, a “downsized” version of the company’s flagship AP1000 Generation III+ pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology that it unveiled in May 2023. Westinghouse is targeting design certification for the AP300 SMR by 2027 and for construction to begin by 2030.
“Westinghouse’s AP300 SMR utilizes the AP1000 engineering, components, and supply chain, enabling streamlined licensing and leveraging available technical skills. Together, these factors provide confidence that the first operating unit will be available in the early 2030s,” the company noted. “The advantageous economics of the AP300 SMR are based on robust analysis and existing project costs from AP1000 reactors already in operation or development on three continents.” The AP300 SMR is already “under consideration by customers in the U.K., Europe, and North America,” including by Ukrainian state-owned nuclear utility Energoatom and Slovak state-owned nuclear company JAVYS.
Rolls-Royce SMR’s 470-MWe PWR. Rolls-Royce SMR said its selection is for its “home-grown” 470-MWe design, which features a “factory-built” plant. Rolls-Royce SMR, notably, in April 2023 progressed to Step 2 of the Generic Design Assessment (GDA), a non-mandatory process that allows the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to begin assessing the safety, security, safeguards, and environmental aspects of new reactor designs before site-specific proposals are brought forward. The process serves as a first step to reduce project risk, providing confidence that a proposed design can be built, operated, and decommissioned in the UK under existing standards. To date, ONR has completed GDAs for the EDF and AREVA UK EPR, the Westinghouse AP1000, the Hitachi-GE UK ABWR, and the CGN/EDF/GNI UK HPR1000 designs in 2012, 2017, 2017, and 2022 respectively.
“The Rolls-Royce SMR is a British solution to the global energy security and decarbonization challenge,” noted Chris Cholerton, Rolls-Royce SMR CEO. “We have the only SMR technology in a European regulatory approval process, putting us almost two years ahead of any of our competitors. Securing a domestic contract is vitally important to unlock the enormous global export potential of our clean energy technology.”
GEH’s BWRX-300 BWR. GEH announced on X its selection is for the BWRX-300, a 300-MWe boiling water reactor (BWR). GEH has submitted a GDA entry application to UK authorities, though it is unclear if the review process has begun. “The BWRX-300 is an ideal solution for the UK’s energy security and decarbonization goals and we look forward to continuing our work with [GBN],” it said.
GEH is already fielding several projects or prospects around the world. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) in December 2021 selected the BWRX-300 for its first SMR deployment at the Darlington Nuclear Facility in Ontario, which could be completed as early as 2028 (with an anticipated commercial start date in 2029). On July 7, the Ontario government announced it would work with OPG to commence planning and licensing for three additional SMRs for a total of four SMRs at the Darlington new nuclear site. OPG is notably partnering with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Polish firm Synthos Green Energy (SGE) to shape a standard design.
TVA is exploring a deployment at the Clinch River site in Tennessee, while SGE and partners are looking to build a fleet of 79 BWRX-300 SMRs by 2038. Saskatchewan provincial utility SaskPower intends to make a decision to build a potential BWRX-300 project in 2029. Fermi Energia has so far already selected BWRX-300 for deployment in Estonia, and agreements are in place in the Czech Republic and Sweden to support BWRX-300 deployment. GEH also says “active discussions” are taking place in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America.
Holtec’s SMR-160 PWR. Holtec Britain has also submitted an application to enter the GDA process for its SMR-160. The company notes it has been a “prominent supplier of goods and services to UK’s Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) program for over 25 years, has assembled a group of qualified domestic British companies with complementary core competencies along with Team Holtec’s global alliance partners, Mitsubishi Electric (Kobe, Japan) and Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co. (Seoul, Korea).” Holtec says it has identified three potential UK sites with existing nuclear power stations suitable for hosting the first wave of Holtec SMR-160s: Trawsfynydd in Wales and Heysham and Oldbury in England.
EDF’s 340-MWe NUWARD PWR. EDF’s selection is for NUWARD, a 340-MWe PWR technology that would feature two reactors of 170 MWe each. While NUWARD was unveiled in 2019, EDF in March established its development under a dedicated subsidiary. The technology is bolstered by support from France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), French defense contractor Naval Group, and TechnicAtome, a designer of naval propulsion nuclear reactors and an operator of nuclear defense facilities, Belgian engineering firm Tractabel, French nuclear equipment giant Framatome, and Italy’s Ansaldo Nucleare.
In June 2023, the French government allotted the SMR a first tranche of €300 million ($315 million) for its basic design phase, and in July, EDF kicked off an early regulatory process for the first NUWARD plant in France with the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), targeting construction in 2030. NUWARD, notably, is also serving as a case study for a European Early Joint Regulatory Review (JER).
EDF, meanwhile, is building two EPRs at the 3.2-GWe Hinkley Point C in Somerset, England, the UK’s first nuclear plant to enter construction for over a generation. EDF is also looking to extend the life of Sizewell B—currently the UK’s only pressurized water reactor (PWR)—on the Suffolk coast by 20 years. At the same time, it is developing the 3.2-GWe Sizewell C, which will replicate the design and operation of Hinkley Point C to reduce risk and cost. The UK government in November 2022 moved to bolster EDF’s proposal to build Sizewell C with a £679 million ($815 million) investment, becoming a 50% project partner alongside EDF, a company owned by the French state. However, on Sept. 20, the government launched a formal process to raise private investment for the Sizewell C, financing that could leverage the UK’s October 2021 introduced Regulated Asset Base model.
NuScale’s VOYGR PWR. NuScale, the only SMR that is certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), offers a 77-MW module that can be scaled up to a 4-, 6- or 12-module nuclear power plant. Plans to build the first NuScale power plant are underway at the 462-MWe Carbon-Free Power Project (CFPP) proposed at an Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site, and licensing endeavors for that project are making headway.