“Rolls-Royce SMR were able to achieve the design by pooling together existing specialist knowledge from prior experience in automotive, jet engine and submarine production.”
More clean electricity will be needed in order to achieve the UK’s 2050 net zero goal. Towards the end of 2015, Rolls-Royce launched their small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) project with the aim of commoditising a nuclear power station that can provide an affordable, low carbon power source that generates electricity using a small modular reactor. The result is a scalable, factory-built nuclear power plant providing clean energy with the potential to be deployed on a global scale.
Matt Blake, Chief Engineer at Rolls-Royce SMR based in Derby, was tasked with engineering the construction of the small modular reactors. Traditional nuclear power stations are expensive to build and difficult to deliver to schedule. Consequently, the key priorities were to minimise cost and to ensure the SMR production was deliverable, scalable and investable.
Matt and his team devised an innovative construction process by developing a ‘kit of parts’ which make up an SMR plant. Each kit contains approximately 35 million parts, each of which is manufactured in factories and made into standardised modules before being transported by road to the site and assembled to form the SMR plant. By creating a factory flowline production of standardised parts, Rolls-Royce SMR has significantly reduced the amount of on-site construction. The simplicity and repeatability of the production process allows for reactors to be installed with a greater level of cost certainty and operational efficiency than traditional nuclear power plants.
When designing the modules, Matt had to consider their weight and size for road transportation, their size for factory storage and how easily they can be deployed on site. 3D digital modelling was used to determine how the reactor should be assembled, including where to place the machinery, the sequence of module installation and how construction workers would move around the site during assembly.
Further innovations exist outside of the power plant’s modular design. Rather than manually disposing of the soil excavated from site production, it is instead used to encircle the power plant and provide protection from flooding. Additionally, the construction site is covered by a steel roof which further reduces the impact of weather constraints. Steel, rather than concrete, is also used as the material in the containment of the reactor.
Rolls-Royce SMR aim to have units operational in the UK by the early 2030s. The scalability, repeatability and adaptability of the SMR design has led to increased global interest as countries look to reduce their carbon output and meet climate targets.