Rolls-Royce SMR to use on-site 'factories' to hit 60 pounds/MWh

Rolls Royce has minimized R&D needs to lower first of a kind (FOAK) risks and foresees modular build gains of up to 15% in line with aerospace and shipbuilding experience, David Orr, Senior Vice President Nuclear at Rolls-Royce, said.

The UK government is currently in the process of selecting the best-value SMR design following a design competition launched in 2016.

A wide range of nuclear technologies have been entered into the competition. Rolls-Royce is among a number of firms which have developed designs based on existing PWR technology, looking to maximize engineering learnings and minimize regulatory hurdles. The UK company has formed partnerships with ARUP, Laing O’Rourke, Nuvia and AMEC Foster Wheeler and predicts the UK would see major economic benefits from a fleet of SMR reactors.

Rolls-Royce believes its 440 MW design can be built at a first of a kind (FOAK) cost of 70 pounds/MWh and the cost will fall to around 60 pounds/MWh from around the fifth unit onwards, Orr told New Energy Update.

Savings would be driven by learner curve gains on modular manufacturing efficiencies and faster on-site build processes.

“We know there is opportunity through the production learner curve to give between a 10-15% [cost] reduction in factory repeatable components of the station delivery, including major vessels,” Orr said.

Such gains have been demonstrated in Rolls Royce’s civil aerospace and marine sector projects and large infrastructure programs such as Cross Rail in London, UK, he said.

    Rolls-Royce SMR learning, production rates

                                 (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Rolls-Royce

Rolls Royce predicts manufacturing savings from component standardization and common processes such as machining and welding, and advanced manufacturing technologies.

In addition, the installation of a protected on-site assembly facility is expected to reduce weather-related risks, cutting time on site to around three years and reducing borrowing costs. Rolls-Royce estimates that without this protected “factory”, UK weather-related issues could delay a four-year construction schedule by as much as two years.

Financing costs should also fall after the first SMR plants start to generate revenue, lowering project debt and reducing investment risks.

“About one third of our total costs is financing," Orr said.

SMR prototype

The Rolls-Royce SMR design is based on GenIII+ technology, using a three loop, close-coupled, single pressurized water reactor (PWR) and a single steam turbine.

The developer initially considered 220 MW models but has settled for a 440 MW design to maximize cost efficiencies while retaining modular build advantages and the ability to transport major components by rail and road.

Rolls-Royce estimates the systems and turbine Island will account for around 40% of capital costs, while civil structures will represent 40% and the nuclear island 20%.

Rolls-Royce is looking to build its first plant in the UK by 2030 and says its design will require “minimal additional R&D investment" during the up-front design development phase scheduled for 2015-2023.

Key R&D investments will include:

• Development of modular civil engineering to allow off-site manufacturing.

• Development of standardized modules to maximize efficiency.

• Development of a site assembly facility that will allow 24/7 construction.

• Digital technologies during design, in construction and through life will provide a virtual ‘digital twin’ to co-exist with the physical power plant. This allows advanced prognostic monitoring of systems to ensure that preventative maintenance can be optimized, reducing O&M costs.

• Deployment of advanced manufacturing technologies to improve productivity and capacity during the manufacture of components and systems. These will include vacuum EB welding and additive manufacturing, with the aim of reducing emissions to as close to zero as possible.

On February 1, the UK Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) announced it would develop a module demonstrator for the Rolls-Royce SMR design.

Around the size of a shipping container, the demonstrator will “provide a physical and digital platform onto which the design, the digital infrastructure, and the production system can be matured and evaluated,” Orr said.

The demonstrator will help the developer test module-to-module connectivity solutions, validate control systems, and help de-risk assumptions underpinning business cases for new module factories, he said.

State support

To date, Rolls-Royce has financed the R&D for its SMR program. The development consortium is now seeking support from the UK government and private investors.

Rolls-Royce is calling for government to support up to 30% of development costs, far less than the support demanded in other countries, Orr said.

Government support in the early stages of SMR development would help build out advanced manufacturing supply chains and ensure costs are minimized. According to the Nuclear AMRC, the development of a UK SMR industry would require new manufacturing capacity in areas such as reactor vessel internals, core and fuel components, and steam generator and pressurized systems.

SMR developers are seeking more clarity from the UK government on the schedule for deployment. Since the UK SMR competition was launched in 2016, progress has been slow and the government has provided little information on its plans.

Rolls-Royce wants the UK government to adapt the National Policy Statement [NPS] for new nuclear new build to include SMR plants, Orr said.

“We would like the NPS amended to say that SMRs are selectable as part of the forward energy mix and ideally have a 7GWe market size. We are in the Expert Finance Working Panel process with [government] which is to prove the business case and thus economics are viable,” he said.

Export markets

The development of one or more UK SMR designs could open up significant export potential for the UK nuclear industry. However, UK faces strong competition from countries such as U.S. and Canada, where government authorities are providing more support for SMR development.

In the U.S., the Department of Energy (DoE) awarded NuScale up to $217 million in 2013, to support the development, licensing and commercialization of its SMR technology over five years, in addition to other support schemes.

NuScale is now set to become the first North American company to build an SMR. The company plans to deliver a 600 MW plant to power cooperative Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) by 2026.

The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has designated SMR technology as a research priority and is expanding its research facilities as part of a CA$1.2 billion investment program. CNL aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of an SMR plant by 2026 and is studying a range of financing options to support Canada's SMR development program.

A recent request for expressions of interest (RFEOI) for SMRs in Canada showed first of a kind (FOAK) risks remain a key barrier to deployment in all markets. Almost 60% of SMR developers said that the financing of FOAK reactors was a critical challenge.

Developers’ estimates on the cost of a FOAK reactor ranged between "several hundreds of millions to over $1 billion," CNL said in a report on the RFEOI.

No single company said they would be comfortable shouldering all of the development risk and respondents said government support would be required, it said.

By Neil Ford