Rolls-Royce, the British jet engine maker, said on Tuesday it was forming a company to build a series of smaller, cheaper nuclear reactors as Britain seeks ways to cut carbon emissions and nuclear energy costs.
The type of reactor proposed by Rolls-Royce would cover about two football fields, or about a tenth the area of a conventional nuclear power plant, the company said.
These plants would generate less electricity – about a seventh of the output of the giant nuclear facility being built at Hinkley Point in southwest England.
But Rolls-Royce has said it hopes to cut construction costs to around 2 billion pounds ($ 2.7 billion) each, compared to around 22.5 billion pounds for the Hinkley Point plant. Part of the savings would come from building a large number of factories and manufacturing modules in the factories which can then be assembled at the sites.
The company hopes to build 16 such plants, known as small modular reactors, and said each could power around one million homes.
The UK government will provide a £ 210million grant to develop the power plants, while Rolls-Royce and partners, including Exelon Generation, a US nuclear company, and BNF Resources, a private company, together will invest £ 195million. over three years.
The government is looking for clean energy sources to replace aging UK nuclear power plants, although Rolls-Royce models are unlikely to be in service for at least a decade.
As well as being a tool for achieving ambitious emissions targets, the government sees the small nuclear program as a way to deliver on its promise to create jobs in the north of England, where, Rolls-Royce said, most investments will be based. The government also hopes to create an export industry supplying such factories to other countries.
Britain, however, is expected to face competition from France, which recently announced its own small reactor program, and the United States, where operators are working on similar concepts. Last week, NuScale Power, based in Portland, Oregon, announced an agreement to build small modular reactors in Romania.
Despite the risks of accidents, nuclear energy is attracting new interest in Europe and elsewhere as a tool enabling countries to meet increasingly ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions responsible for climate change. Nuclear power plants are popular for providing large amounts of low carbon electricity.
Rolls-Royce’s work with nuclear power includes the design of reactors aboard British nuclear submarines, work that began in the 1950s.