Photographer: Martin Divisek/Bloomberg

Mini Nuclear Plants Could Come to Britain by 2025, U.S. Firm Says

  • NuScale's 50-megawatt units can be aggregated in bigger plants
  • U.K. seeking new forms of baseload power to replace coal

U.K. ambitions to build small modular nuclear plants may be realized as soon as 2025, according to Fluor Corp.’s NuScale unit, which is seeking to be a pioneer in the market.

QuickTake Nuclear Power

NuScale plans to submit its 50-megawatt reactor design for approval by U.S. nuclear authorities towards the end of 2016. That would leave it well-placed to seek the U.K. equivalent, called Generic Design Assessment, in 2017, Tom Mundy, executive vice president for program development at the U.S. company, said in an interview in London.

“Assuming the GDA is submitted and takes four years, we’d be looking at approval in 2021,” Mundy said. “There’s then a 36-month construction time, so it’s plausible to expect that if all things line up, we could have a U.K. plant built by 2025."

Britain is trying to secure new baseload power as it closes down all its coal-fired plants by 2025. Conventional nuclear power is proving expensive and time consuming, while most companies don’t think it’s profitable to build new gas-fired stations. The Treasury in November said it will plow 250 million pounds ($378 million) into research and development over the next five years aimed at building one of the world’s first small modular nuclear reactors in the 2020s.

NuScale’s 50-megawatt reactors can be deployed in quantities of as many as 12 at a single power plant. That would give utilities the flexibility to spread capital spending over many years as they expand a plant. By contrast, Electricite de France SA and China General Nuclear Power Corp. will spend about 18 billion pounds to build a 3.2-gigawatt nuclear plant they’re planning at Hinkley Point in southwest England by 2025, the first atomic station in the country since 1995.

The levelized cost of energy for NuScale’s first project will be about $101 (70 pounds) per megawatt-hour, according to Mundy. Later projects could come in at $90, he said. The EDF-led plant at Hinkley will get government-guaranteed power payments of 92.50 pounds per megawatt-hour for 35 years. 

The global market for small modular reactors may total as much as 400 billion pounds by 2035, according to a report in late 2014 by the National Nuclear Laboratory, which advises the U.K. government. It identified reactor designs that may meet U.K. requirements coming from NuScale, Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse unit, China National Nuclear Corp. and the mPower venture by Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises Inc. and Bechtel Group Inc.

NuScale won’t manufacture its own reactors and has investigated the U.K. supply chain, according to Mundy. Once established in Britain, the company could then export its modules to other European nations, he said.

"There are U.K. companies that can build everything we need,” said Mundy. "We can offer British companies great opportunities to build the stuff. We want to make our program as beneficial to the U.K. as possible. It’s the only international market where we’re really expending resources."

When Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the R&D funding for modular reactors, it also said a competition for funding will be held “early next year.” The Department of Energy and Climate Change said that no fixed timetable has yet been set. Mundy said he doesn’t doubt the government’s intentions.

“Nuclear power has a long legacy in this country, and our reactors are based on tried-and-tested light water technology,” Mundy said. “I’m optimistic that with what the chancellor said and the indications from DECC we’re going to continue to move forward."

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