Modular nuclear reactors a step closer as Laing O’Rourke joins the British consortium developing the baby power plants

Tracey Boles
how a modular reactor could look

Engineering firm Laing O’Rourke has joined the British consortium spearheading the development of small nuclear power plants which could provide a much-needed boost to the UK's energy supplies.

The consortium is hoping to win UK government funding for its innovative plants, known as small modular reactors (SMRs). The Rolls-Royce led venture also includes Amec Foster Wheeler, Arup, Nuvia and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Rolls-Royce has come up with a modular concept that allows for factory manufacture and speedy installation of the planned plants. The reactors are about the size of the O2 and could power a city the size of Leeds.

“The UK SMR will provide a low cost, low carbon and local to the UK solution to Britain’s energy needs and demands in the future,” a spokesman for the UK SMR programme said.

“Our SMRs will be ‘plug and play’ reactors which are cheaper and more flexible, and part of a balanced, economically stable energy mix. An all-British solution would mean we didn’t have to rely on foreign gas imports in the future so much. And we know renewables alone won’t help the country meet its clean energy targets.”

The spokesman added: “Crucially we would be creating genuine skilled British jobs and keeping the IP within our borders.”

The consortium believes UK SMRs could be a British success story post Brexit, with a global export market worth an estimated £400bn. Around 40,000 skilled British jobs could be created, with the programme forecast to generate a £180bn-plus windfall for the economy.

Laing O’Rourke’s group technical director Paul Westbury said: “The UK’s industrial future relies on a diversity of power sources and through this collaboration with other industry leaders, Laing O’Rourke is pleased to bring its innovation and delivery expertise to the development of small modular reactors.

“The innovative approach to construction and technology being applied to this project showcases modern forms of construction and is another strand to the off-site manufacturing approach that Laing O’Rourke has continued to invest in.”

The National Audit Office said recently the UK needed a “Plan B” for energy supplies as concerns mount over the larger planned twin reactors at Hinkley Point C.

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