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UK Companies See Major Opportunity in Nuclear Supply Chain

The UK government has ambitions for 24 GW of nuclear energy by 2050 to help in providing energy security for the UK and for meeting its net-zero goals. Among groups helping to revive and expand the UK’s nuclear industry is the University of Sheffield Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC), part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

According to Nuclear AMRC, four gigawatt-scale reactor designs have been formally approved for new build in the UK. They are:

  • Framatome’s 1.6-GWe EPR (originally the Areva European Pressurised Reactor).
  • Westinghouse’s 1.1-GWe AP1000.
  • GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH’s) 1.3-GWe Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR).
  • China National Nuclear Corp. and China General Nuclear Power Group’s jointly developed 1.17-GWe Hualong One (HPR 1000).

Nuclear AMRC says these four reactors have all completed the UK’s generic design assessment (GDA) by the Office for Nuclear Regulation and Environment Agency, which is intended to support the construction of a number of new nuclear power stations. At present, two EPRs are under construction in the UK at Hinkley Point C in Somerset.

The UK is also considering the development of small modular reactors (SMRs). The Rolls-Royce SMR, a 470-MWe pressurized water reactor (PWR), formally entered GDA in early 2022. Other SMRs to begin the process include Holtec’s SMR-300 and GEH’s BWRX-300, both of which received funding support from the UK government’s Future Nuclear Enabling Fund.

Developing the UK’s Nuclear Supply Chain

On March 20, Nuclear AMRC hosted an all-day conference bringing together more than 150 UK-based businesses covering all elements of the nuclear supply chain, including manufacturing, construction, and engineering. Among the speakers at the event were South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard, as well as experts from GEH (Figure 1), the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), and Synthos Green Energy (SGE).

“We’re delighted to bring together the UK’s nuclear manufacturers with GE Hitachi to discuss the opportunities around the BWRX-300 and help launch supply chain engagement for this nationally important programme,” Andrew Storer, CEO of the Nuclear AMRC, said in a statement released in conjunction with the event. “An SMR programme in the UK will present huge opportunities for the domestic supply chain, and information-sharing and networking event[s] like this are an essential first step to maximizing UK content and making the most of the economic benefits of investment in low-carbon power.”

In a statement issued by GE Vernova, Sean Sexstone, executive vice president for Advanced Nuclear with GEH, said: “Our BWRX-300 SMR technology is an ideal solution for meeting the UK’s decarbonization and energy security goals. It is based on tried, tested and reliable technology and partners in Canada, the U.S. and Poland are already investing in our technology. We believe this makes our reactor the lowest risk and highest reward choice for Great British Nuclear. We have assembled a first-class team to deliver the BWRX-300 in the UK and we look forward to working with the local companies who have attended today’s conference as we continue to develop a robust UK supply chain.”

Among the selling points GEH touts for the BWRX-300 are “a unique combination of existing fuel that is currently used in operating reactors (and does not require HALEU [high-assay low-enriched uranium, a fuel needed by some new advanced reactor designs]), plant simplifications, proven components, and a design based on already licensed reactor technology.” GEH says the simplified configuration results in less concrete and steel needed for construction, which is expected to minimize project costs.

The BWRX-300 also uses natural circulation and passive cooling isolation condenser systems to enhance safety. GEH claims the design can cool itself for a minimum of seven days without power or operator action.

GEH reports significant global interest in the BWRX-300 (Figure 2). In Canada, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has partnered with GEH, AtkinsRéalis, and Aecon Construction Group to deliver a BWRX-300 at OPG’s Darlington nuclear site. The Province of Ontario is working with OPG on planning and licensing for three additional BWRX-300s at the Darlington site.

Meanwhile, SaskPower selected GEH technology for potential deployment in Saskatchewan, Canada; the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is working on a Construction Permit Application for possible deployment of the BWRX-300 design at its Clinch River site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and SGE and PKN Orlen have established a joint venture and issued decisions-in-principle for the construction of 24 BWRX-300 SMRs at six locations in Poland. GEH says agreements are in place to support BWRX-300 deployment in the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Estonia. The company says active discussions are also happening in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America.

In the UK, Tom Greatrex, CEO of the NIA, said: “SMRs like the BWRX-300 will be vital in the UK’s efforts to strengthen energy security and meet net zero goals by providing reliable, clean power 24/7. The impressive turnout at today’s conference shows there is real appetite in the supply chain for these new exciting nuclear projects and is testament to the work being done by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to deliver its goal to develop here in the UK.”

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