Rolls-Royce SMR announces facility to manufacture and test nuclear technology modules

Article by Amanda Jasi

Rolls-Royce SMR factories will produce hundreds of prefabricated and pre-tested modules ready for assembly on site into a complete nuclear power plant.

ROLLS-ROYCE SMR has started work on a £15m (US$19.2m) project to manufacture and test prototype modules for its small modular reactor technology, taking a vital step towards deploying a global fleet of “factory-built” nuclear power plants.

The firm is simulating a full-scale production environment at the UK’s University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). AMRC focuses on manufacturing R&D , working with companies of all sizes – including SMEs, startups, and large-scale manufacturers – to help them improve their productivity.

The new facility is being developed within AMRC Factory 2050, the UK’s first state-of the-art factory with configurable spaces to enable collaborative research into digital manufacturing, machine technologies, and component manufacture.

In a phased manner, Rolls-Royce SMR will use the facility to build and test 15 different working prototypes of individual modules that will be used for fabricating Rolls-Royce SMR’s nuclear power stations. The project aims to prove that these modules be manufactured in a repeatable way, in a factory.

Victoria Scott, chief manufacturing engineer at Rolls-Royce SMR, said: “This facility will allow us to refine our production, testing, and digital approach to manufacturing – helping de-risk our programme and ensure we increase our delivery certainty.”

The technology developer plans to build all 15 modules within the next 12–18 months, which it expects to cost more than £15m. The first phase of work – costing £2.7m – will include setup of the manufacturing and testing facility, and the production of three modules.  

Martin Smith, chair of the Economic Development and Skills Policy Committee on the Sheffield City Council, said: “The new multimillion-pound investment brings with it new jobs as well as advances in technology which could power millions of homes for decades to come.”

Each of Rolls-Royce SMR’s factory-built nuclear power stations will provide enough low-carbon electricity to power 1m homes for more than 60 years.

Over 90% of each power plant will be constructed using modules that are prefabricated in factories, shipped, and then assembled into a complete working power station onsite. This modular approach, which is also a feature of the oil, gas, and renewables sectors, de-risks projects as much of the engineering, fabrication, and testing is carried out in a controlled environment rather than onsite.

Small modular reactor (SMR) technology is seen as a clean energy solution that is easier to deliver and scale than building new larger nuclear power stations which are often prone to project delays and overspends. But critics of SMRs will highlight that the technology has yet to be deployed.

The UK government is pursuing both SMR technology and large-scale nuclear as it seeks to quadruple the UK’s nuclear capacity to 24 GW by 2050.

A change of plan

Two years ago, Rolls-Royce SMR shortlisted sites for its first full-scale facility to manufacture heavy pressure vessels, a critical component of SMRs. However, it couldn’t justify the commitment after the UK government failed to come through with an order and now plans to source this component from the supply chain.

The company is now focusing on mechanical, electrical, and plumbing modules, which will be built and tested at the AMRC Factory 2050 facility. These modules will comprise servicing equipment that will support the nuclear reactor.

Sites that were previously shortlisted for the full-scale facility will be considered to develop the new modules.

Rolls-Royce SMR expects to shortlist locations towards the start of next year, pending success in the UK’s SMR competition and a commitment by the incoming government. 

The company’s reactor design is one of six on the UK government’s SMR competition shortlist, announced last October.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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