Treasury red tape blamed for delay in SMR rollout

The government has been warned that delays in commissioning the first tranche of mini nuclear reactors risk undermining action to tackle the energy crisis.

Plans to develop five small modular reactors (SMRs) by Rolls-Royce, each generating enough power for a million homes, had been hindered by red tape within the Treasury, Tobias Ellwood MP said.

“The Rolls-Royce design is now stuck between the development and delivery phases, and that delay means the built-in advantage that Rolls-Royce has – its experience of procuring nuclear reactors for the Royal Navy – is being lost because of unnecessary delays and bureaucracy,” he said in a parliamentary debate on Wednesday (7 September).

Ellwood stressed that the problem was not with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, but with the Treasury.

“Obviously, all nuclear reactors are complex and there should be no short cuts to their procurement, but this is not about design approval; it is about the political will.

“The government needs to formally agree to commission those first five reactors here in the UK.

“That would allow Rolls-Royce to secure the funds to build the factory, and thus allow more reactor orders to be honoured.”

In July, Rolls-Royce shortlisted Sunderland (Durham), Richmond (North Yorkshire), Grimsby (Lincolnshire), Deeside (Wales), Ferrybridge (Yorkshire), Carlisle (Cumbria) and Stallingborough (Lincolnshire)as potential locations for the construction of its first factory.

The engineering firm is expecting to receive regulatory approval for the mini nuclear reactors by the middle of 2024, and received £210m backing from the government last year, announced in the government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. It has also secured £280m of funding for the SMRs via private sources.

Climate minister Graham Stuart reiterated the government’s commitment to building new nuclear capacity and offered assurance that the appropriate action would be taken.

“I have no doubt that with the right will and the proper prompting by colleagues from across the House we can ensure that we move with the speed necessary,” he said.

“We need to, because, because, as [Ellwood] rightly says, we are not alone in pursuing and seeing this opportunity, and there have been instances in the past when this country has been in a position to lead and has not moved quickly enough, and multi-billion-dollar opportunities – let us call them that – have ended up going elsewhere.”

Modules for the reactors will be manufactured in UK factories before being transported for assembly onsite, reducing construction time and cost, Rolls-Royce SMR said.

Each reactor will have the capacity to generate 470MW of low-carbon energy, equivalent to more than 150 onshore wind turbines, at a cost around £2.2bn each.

The UK engineering company previously announced plans to complete up to 10 SMRs by 2035, and aims to turn on the first factory by 2029.

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