The U.K. government on Oct. 2 selected six small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) designs from American, British and French developers to advance to the next phase of its fast-track competition for what it called a “massive revival” of the country’s nuclear power sector. 

Each company will be invited to bid for government contracts later this year with successful bidders to be announced in the spring and contracts awarded next summer.

Selected bidders include U.S.firms NuScale Power, GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse Electric and Holtec. U.K.-based Rolls Royce SMR and France's EDF Energy. 

The British government aims to provide 25% of U.K. power demand through nuclear generation by 2050, which is expected to be up to 25 GW, with 85% of existing nuclear power plants set to be decommissioned by 2035. The government said it considers the six firms' designs as best able to deliver the first operational SMRs by then.

"That’s why we have focused our first step on technologies we viewed as the most likely to meet the objective of a final investment decision in 2029,” said Gwen Parry-Jones, CEO of Great British Nuclear, a government entity formed last year to advance new projects.

Contract Award Next Summer?

The U.K. expects to announce by next spring which designs it will support and is set to award contracts by summer. “This timetable aims to make this competition the fastest of its kind in the world,” Great British Nuclear noted. It released bid documents to prospective bidders on July 18. 

“This competition ... puts the U.K. at the front of the global race to develop this exciting, cutting-edge technology and cements our position as a world leader in nuclear innovation,” Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said. 

The Rolls-Royce-led consortium, which includes engineering services firms Atkins and Jacobs as well as U.K. contractors BAM Nuttall and Laing O'Rourke, aims to build 16 SMRs and expects to complete the first unit in 2030 and build up to 10 by 2035. Its SMR technology design is under review by U.K. regulators, the only competitor to reach that point, with possible approval by mid-2024. 

U.S.-based Holtec International has teamed with Hyundai Engineering and Construction and U.K. contractor Balfour Beatty. It plans to build 32 units by 2050 with the first to be operational in 2028. GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy said it plans to build its BWRX-300 design and NuScale Power, which has the only SMR design that is certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, will compete with a 77-MW module that can be scaled up. A version now is proposed to be built at Idaho National Laboratory. 

Westinghouse is developing its AP300 design, a 300-MW single-loop version of the company’s larger AP1000 unit. It expects design certification by 2027 and construction start by 2030. The AP300 uses engineering, components and supply chain of the larger model, the firm said, "enabling streamlined licensing and leveraging of available technical skills."

EDF’s selection is for NUWARD, a 340-MW PWR technology that would feature two reactors of 170 MW each, and has French government support to develop its design. Its development team also includes Belgian engineering firm Tractebel and France-based nuclear equipment giant Framatome.

“The government is set to consult later in the year on how best to ensure other nuclear technologies can potentially get underway in the U.K. and this could include some of the technologies that were not selected through this process,” Great British Nuclear said, but it did not disclose which technologies were not selected.

However, according to U.K. media reports, U.S.-based advanced nuclear technology developer TerraPower, backed by major investor Bill Gates, is not among the shortlisted firms. One report contends that its sodium-based Natrium nuclear reactor technology depends on uranium, which is produced primarily in Russia and is now under sanctions. The units would have an output of 345 MW, with a combined storage unit that boosts that to 500 MW at times of higher demand.

TerraPower was not responding to media queries, but CEO Chris Levesque had said earlier this year that the firm intended to bid for government approval to build SMRs in the UK. 

The firm is developing a demonstration plant in Wyoming, which is set to come on line by the late 2020s, with about $2 billion of government funding. Its projected cost has not been disclosed.

In July, Great British Nuclear said up to $98 million would be available for companies to accelerate advanced nuclear business development in the U.K. and support advanced nuclear designs.