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Rolls-Royce reveals site shortlist for first small nuclear reactor factory

The Rolls-Royce-led consortium seeking to become the UK’s domestic nuclear energy champion has chosen its shortlist of locations for the first factory that will build a fleet of small modular reactors (SMRs).

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Richmond constituency in North Yorkshire is among six sites in England and Wales to make the list announced on Monday, along with Sunderland, Deeside in Wales, Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire, Stallingborough, Lincolnshire, and Carlisle.

The FTSE 100 engineer launched a competition in January asking several of England’s regional development bodies and the Welsh government to pitch for the manufacturing site, promising investment of up to £200mn and the creation of up to 200 direct jobs.

Rolls-Royce said a technical team had reviewed the suitability of the sites based on criteria including accessibility to major road networks, relevant local skills and local incentives for the deployment of on-site renewable power generation.

The company is pushing hard for ministers to fast-track development of the reactors at a time when the government is seeking to secure more domestic energy supplies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The technology is also viewed as a way to create manufacturing jobs and help deliver on Boris Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda designed to ensure wealth and jobs are more evenly spread across the UK. Each 470MW plant will be able to power about 1mn homes.

The consortium originally targeted deployment of the reactors in the early 2030s but recently brought that forward to 2029 — if the government commits to the technology. Alongside site selection, the companies are putting their SMR design through the UK’s rigorous nuclear regulatory regime. The government last year committed £210mn to support it through the safety approval process.

Tom Samson, Rolls-Royce SMR chief executive, said the level of the response “shows the ambition and appetite of the UK to build and operate a fleet of SMRs which will provide affordable, low-carbon electricity for generations to come”.

The final location would come from the shortlist and “result in significant investment, long-term high-skilled jobs and will support the UK government’s aspirations for levelling-up”, he added.

Under the plans, the reactors will be built in factories around the country and then assembled on site, reducing the risks and huge costs of construction of big nuclear power plants. The winning site will build the heavy-pressure vessels that are part of the reactor power station. Construction will begin once Rolls-Royce SMR receives the go-ahead to build a fleet of SMRs.

Locations for two other factories, which will build smaller modules, including mechanical engineering and plumbing parts, still need to be chosen and will be selected from the full list of submissions.

Kwasi Kwarteng, business and energy secretary, said SMRs had the “potential to provide quicker and cheaper low-carbon nuclear power, and today’s announcement underlines the potential for new jobs around the country created by embracing this new technology”.

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