A Bill Gates-backed clean energy player is hoping to build dozens of reactors in the UK, and will enter the race alongside potential rivals Rolls-Royce and GE Hitachi with its own mini-nuclear power plant designs.
Chris Levesque, chief executive of nuclear start-up Terra Power, confirmed the company will bid for government approval to build small modular reactors (SMRs) in the UK, with the competition being overseen by freshly launched industry vehicle GB Nuclear.
“I’ve met with quite a few industrial partners in the UK and we really see partnerships here that we can leverage as we scale up,” he told The Sunday Times.
SMRs refer to scaled down nuclear power plants, typically assembled in stages at factories before being shipped to construction sites, reducing the cost and development time.
Levesque has suggested Terra’s reactors could be built in shipyards as their assembly does not require heavy forging.
The government has announced a bidding competition through GB Nuclear with hopes of first generation from new plants the 2030s, a target Terra expects to meet.
“We think we could build dozens of reactors in the UK in the 2030s,” Levesque said.
Terra rivals Rolls-Royce for nuclear approval
Terra was founded in 2006 by Gates, the co-creator of Microsoft and the world’s fifth richest man, to explore clean energy , with the firm developing a sodium-based nuclear reactor technology it calls Natrium.
Natrium provides some benefits compared to conventional reactors such as capabilities to store and release energy to the grid at times when demand is high.
Gates led a £588.3m ($750m) funding round for the nuclear project last year and remains its biggest investor.
Terra’s Natrium reactor has an output of 345 megawatts of electricity (MWe), below rival Rolls-Royce’s light-water design, but this can rise to 500MWe for bursts of up to five and a half hours due to its molten salt storage system.
By contrast, the output of upcoming EDF-owned Hinkley Point C will be 3.2 gigawatts, nearly ten times as much.
The projected costs of Terra’s reactor and generating energy remain undisclosed.
However, the company has secured £1.6bn ($2bn) of US taxpayer funds to develop a Natrium demonstration plant in Wyoming, which it hopes to have online by the end of the decade – giving an indication of the reactor’s costs.
The government is pushing to ramp up nuclear power from 7GW to 24GW over the next three decades, with 85 per cent of the UK’s ageing fleet set to be decommissioned by 2035.
It has announced financial backing of £870m for Sizewell C and £210m so far for Rolls-Royce’s projects.