His Majesty’s Government is making a massive bet on nuclear power. That bet centers on small modular reactors (SMRS).
The bet includes an international competition for the best SMR design, The Financial Times reports. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt has plans for Great British Nuclear. Great British Nuclear will be a new agency to oversee a revival of UK nuclear power.
Government plans include generating 24 gigawatts (24 billion watts) of nuclear power in Britain by 2050. If the plan succeeds, nuclear reactors could generate 25% of British electricity, The Financial Times estimates.
Conversely, the government has not budgeted more money for nuclear. However, Energy Secretary Grant Shapp could announce more nuclear funding this month, The Financial Times speculates.
Nuclear Power is now “Green” in the UK
His Majesty’s Government is reclassifying nuclear power as green and “environmentally sustainable energy,” Hunt announced in his Budget Speech.
The government hopes classifying nuclear as green can attract more investment, The Guardian speculates. To explain, Hunt hopes investment bankers and fund managers could classify British nuclear as an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment.
Interestingly, the British government is following the European Commission’s lead. The Commission, the governing body of the European Union (EU) classified nuclear as a “green investment” last year.
You can call nuclear power green because it produces no greenhouse emissions. However, nuclear reactors create dangerous nuclear waste. Moreover, traditional large reactors are expensive, take a long time to build, and are prone to catastrophic accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Why His Majesty’s Government is investing in SMRs
Hence, the government is seeking a smaller and cheaper alternative; small modular reactors. An SMR is a smaller and cheaper reactor that they can build in a factory.
For example, GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 SMR is one tenth the size of a traditional nuclear plant. GE Hitachi claims they can build an SMR in 24 to 36 months. Plus, they could theoretically install several SMRs in the same area as a traditional nuclear plant.
In contrast, just one reactor at the new Hinkley Point C project in Somerset will be 13 meters tall and weigh 500 tons, the BBC reports. That reactor could provide power for three million homes. In contrast, a BWRX-300 SMR can power 300,000 homes.
Hinkley Point is two years behind schedule and they will need 8,000 workers to complete it, the BBC reports. They hope Hinkley Point will start generating power in June 2027. Hence, traditional nuclear power could be too expensive for Britain, which is why His Majesty’s Government is betting heavily on SMRs.
Rolls-Royce’s Massive Nuclear Bet
One British company, Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC (LON: RR) is a leader in small modular reactor construction.
Rolls-Royce (RR) has been building smaller nuclear reactors that power Royal Navy submarines for generations. For instance, Rolls-Royce will build the reactors that power the Australian Navy’s proposed nuclear sub fleet, the BBC reports.
Rolls-Royce will build those reactors at Barrow-in-Furness in Derby. To expand its workforce, Rolls-Royce is operating a Nuclear Skills Academy in Derby. The Nuclear Skills Academy will offer 200 apprenticeships a year.
Rolls-Royce is the historic British defense contractor and engine builder, not the automaker. They sold the luxury car business to BMW years ago. Rolls-Royce has long been at the cutting-edge of power generation. For example, it built the engines that powered the Royal Air Force’s Spitfire fighter planes and Avro Lancaster bombers during World War II.
The company has formed Rolls-Royce SMR Ltd to build and market small modular reactors. His Majesty’s government will contribute £210 million ($284.82 million) to Rolls-Royce SMR Ltd, The Financial Times reports.
Rolls-Royce SMR is seeking a site for an SMR factory in England or Wales. The company claims it can assemble that can power one million homes with 80% British components. They claim the SMR can generate 470 megawatts of power, or the equivalent of 150 offshore wind turbines. The SMR will be the size of two football pitches (fields) or 210 meters (688.976 feet) by 136 meters (446.194 feet) in area.
Rolls-Royce will use the expertise from the nuclear submarine program to build SMRs. I imagine the Nuclear Skills Academy will train workers for the SMR factory.
Rolls Royce SMR has memorandums of understanding to build SMRs for customers in Turkey, Estonia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Additionally, the company is exploring opportunities in Finland and Sweden.
Why is the British Government Investing Heavily in SMRs?
The British Government is investing in SMRs because of the nation’s dependence on expensive imported energy.
For example, British household energy prices increased by 54% in April 2022 and 80% by October 2022, Parliament estimates. Only a Price Guarantee (government funding for household energy bills) will limit those increases to 20% in April 2023. Those costs were already high, the average British household energy bill grew by 36% between 2020 and 2021.
British energy prices are high because the country depends on imported natural gas. Wholesale natural prices grew by 54% in April 2022 and 80% in October 2022 because of the Ukraine War. Those prices could go higher because of the destruction of the Nordstream Two Pipeline which moved Russian natural gas to Western Europe.
The End of North Sea Oil
Hence, His Majesty’s Government is preparing for a world of expensive and unstable energy in a time of Climate Change. Britain’s energy woes could soon worse because North Sea Oil and gas are running out.
The University of Edinburgh scientists estimate just 10% of North Sea oil and 11% of North Sea gas remained in 2019, The Scotsman reports. The scientists think North Sea oil and gas could run out by 2029, forcing Britain to import all of its oil and gas. Even if North Sea Oil and Gas remains, England and Wales could lose access to it if Scotland declares “independence” and joins the European Union.
I think the End of North Sea oil explains why His Majesty’s Government wants all new vehicles sold in Britain to be electric by 2035. Electric vehicles comprised 14% of new car registrations in the UK in the third quarter of 2022, Parliament estimates.
A Survival Plan for a Post-Oil World
To electrify British transport, the Net Zero Strategy will require manufacturers to build rising percentages of electric vehicles beginning in 2024. To achieve the strategy’s goal of ending British carbon emissions by 2005, they will have to generate an additional 65 to 100 trillion watt hours of electricity in the United Kingdom.
One reason for the Net Zero Strategy is to replace expensive imported petrol with cheap nuclear power SMRs can generate. An obvious benefit of the Net Zero Strategy is to improve Britain’s balance of trade by eliminating oil and gas imports.
Thus, the Net Zero Strategy is an economic survival plan for the United Kingdom. His Majesty’s Government is trying to survive in a post-oil world. I think America needs such a plan.