on November 23rd, 2020

Rolls-Royce has recently announced their pledge to create 6,000 jobs in the United Kingdom as part of their plans to build 16 small nuclear power stations.

The announcement comes with the backdrop of the global energy sector facing increasing pressure to embrace renewable energy technologies. The mini nuclear power stations aim to help secure the UK's net-zero commitments feasibly.

The objective is to tackle the most significant problem nuclear power faces: the exorbitant cost. The reason it is so expensive is that the projects are enormous and complex and have to meet very high safety standards. So this is where Rolls-Royce's small modular reactors (SMRs) come in.

An artists concept of a Rolls-Royce mini nuclear power plant
Artist's concept of a Rolls-Royce SMR plant | Rolls-Royce

There is considerable movement in the SMR industry. Rolls-Royce is leading a UK consortium that will continue to research and develop affordable power plants that generate electricity using SMRs. Reportedly, the UK government may invest up to £2 billion to support the new power generation initiative.

The plan to roll out a fleet of nuclear power stations was outlined by Rolls-Royce 9 months ago. The company indicated that some of the reactors could be generating power for communities as soon as 2029. The nuclear reactors can be built and implemented faster than traditional power plants, which is why they are so desirable to governments looking to add nuclear to their energy mix. Talking to the BBC, Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce's Chief Technology Officer, said:

"The trick is to have prefabricated parts where we use advanced digital welding methods and robotic assembly, and then parts are shipped to the site and bolted together."

The reactors will not take up too much space either as they typically only fill up 1.5 acres of land. Rolls-Royce has already signed its second memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a partly state-owned energy utility in Czechoslovakia named CEZ.

The environmental benefits, instilling public confidence, and winning governmental policy support for the modular reactors is the next mountain Rolls-Royce and the other nine companies that make up the consortium must now climb. While the particular nuclear tech the consortium are dealing with, Canadian companies are also looking into implementing a form of small nuclear reactors.

The Canadian government has also set aside US$15.11 million for investment into small nuclear power plants. The Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development told CBC:

"By helping to bring these small reactors to market, we are supporting significant environmental and economic benefits, including generating energy with reduced emissions, highly skilled job creation and Canadian intellectual property development. SMRs are a game-changing technology with the potential to play a critical role in fighting climate change, and rebuilding our post-COVID-19 economy."

They will be looking at procuring Integral Molten Salt Reactors (IMSR) from Canadian energy company Terrestrial Energy. The company itself is investing $91.5 million in research and development of small modular nuclear reactors.

The energy needs of the planet are substantial and require a mix of energy technologies. Governments are waking up to the fact and directing engineering companies to come up with the best options related to nuclear energy.

Engineering practitioners would do well to familiarize themselves with the technologies so that they are well equipped for the jobs of the future at these modular power plants. The era of intelligent power and safe nuclear technology could be upon them soon.

Works Cited

"Federal Government Invests in Small Nuclear Reactors to Help It Meet Net-Zero 2050 Target | CBC News." CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 15 Oct. 2020, www.cbc.ca/news/politics/bains-small-modular-reactors-net-zero-1.5763762.

"Small Modular Reactors." Rolls, www.rolls-royce.com/products-and-services/nuclear/small-modular-reactors.aspx#section-why-smrs.

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