In the next series of posts, we will highlight the many opportunities in the nuclear sector for the UK supply chain. First, we will look at Small Modular Reactors, commonly referred to as SMRs.
SMRs, the next 'Big Thing'
The UK government has defined SMRs as "nuclear reactors with a power output of up to 400 MWe, designed to be factory-built and transported to a site for installation, and which can be replicated to provide a scalable output of electricity or heat". Note that the IAEA has defined SMRs as "advanced nuclear reactors with a power capacity of up to 300 MWe per module”.
SMRs are seen as a potential solution for decarbonizing the global energy system. They can produce clean, reliable electricity, and they can also be used to provide heat for industrial processes or for desalination.
The development of SMRs is still in its early stages, but there are a number of companies around the world that are working on SMR designs. The IAEA recorded about 50 designs and concepts globally.
UK launches SMR selection competition
Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps recently announced how “Great British Nuclear (GBN) will drive the rapid expansion of new nuclear power plants in the UK at an unprecedented scale and pace.
This will boost UK energy security, reduce dependence on volatile fossil fuel imports, create more affordable power and grow the economy, with the nuclear industry estimated to generate around £6 billion for the UK economy”.
GBN will be managing the UK government's SMR selection competition, which is open to consortia that are developing SMR designs that are capable of generating at least 400 MWe. The government is expected to announce the winners of the competition in 2024.
SMR deployment accelerating internationally
SMRs are seen as a key energy source across the world and many countries have started to undertake the key step of mandatory regulatory assessment, which vary from country to country.
For instance, in France, the prelicensing process for the Nuward SMR design has begun. Nuward is an SMR design being developed by a consortium of Rolls-Royce, EDF, and Assystem. The design is based on the EPR reactor design, which has been scaled down to make it suitable for modular construction.
In the US, NuScale received NRC approval for its 50 MWe design in 2020 and design certification in 2023, making it the first and only SMR to achieve either milestone. In August 2023, they announced the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accepted their Standard Design Approval application for formal review for its VOYGR™-6 plant design featuring an uprated 77 MWe small modular nuclear reactor (SMR), which will support capacity requirements for a wider range of customers.
In Canada, the GEH BWRX-300 has been selected by Ontario Power Generation for the Darlington New Nuclear Project, which could be complete by late 2028. The BWRX-300 is a 300 MWe reactor with passive safety systems that leverages the design and licensing basis of GEH's US NRC-certified Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR).
In the UK, Rolls Royce SMR has progressed to Step 2 of the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) in 2023. Step 2 is the fundamental assessment stage of the GDA where the detailed technical assessment by the regulators – the Office for Nuclear Regulation, Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales - are conducted which will bring the Rolls Royce SMR closer to implementation in the UK.
Artist impression of the Rolls Royce SMR (credit: https://www.rolls-royce-smr.com/)
Deployment of SMRs globally is also supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Their Nuclear Harmonization Standardization Initiative (NHSI) is developing tools and publications to help countries deploy SMRs safely and securely, and harmonize regulations for SMRs across different countries.
So how should the UK Supply Chain prepare itself for these upcoming opportunities?
Many of the opportunities in the SMR supply chain are similar to those of larger reactors, but there are also many SMR designers and vendors across the world with different requirements.
For example, Reuter-Stokes, a company that has supplied neutron detection technology to Boiling Water and Pressurised Water Reactors since 1986, saw an opportunity to join the SMR supply chain early and build relationships with these new companies, as detailed in this article.
They have already signed a contract with NuScale and their ambition is to provide their technology across the sector, but many of these new reactors will need bespoke pieces of equipment.
Reuter-Stokes's approach has been to offer a three-phase programme for SMR developers to help them with risk and cost management. This is a valuable service for SMR developers, as it can help them to avoid costly mistakes and ensure that their projects stay on track.
Early engagement is a great opportunity for the UK supply chain, not only to position themselves in the future supply chain, but also because many developers need to formulate their requirements. Support from businesses that are experts in their own area will be invaluable.
The best way for the UK Supply Chain to prepare itself for these upcoming opportunities is to keep informed about the types of technologies under consideration in regions of interest, and understand where their product could fit with different reactor designs. Many of these new developers attend international events, which could be a great opportunity to pitch their product or build a connection.
If you'd like to talk more about SMRs and what they mean for your business, get in touch at email@example.com
Please note, for transparency purposes, that I used AI to help me summarise information, and improve the grammar and clarity of my writing. I have edited the text to ensure that it reflects my own thoughts and ideas.