A single Rolls-Royce SMR power station will occupy the footprint of two football pitches and power approximately one million homes. It can support both on-grid electricity and a range of off-grid clean energy solutions, enabling the decarbonization of industrial processes and the production of clean fuels, such as sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and green hydrogen, to support the energy transition. Credit: Rolls-Royce.

While former US president Barack Obama was bashing China’s no-show during a lengthy, and eloquent speech at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, he neglected to mention one thing.

The world’s biggest emitter, China is planning at least 150 new reactors in the next 15 years, more than the rest of the world has built in the past 35.

According to Bloomberg, the effort could cost as much as US$440 billion; as early as the middle of this decade.

After decades of cost-overruns, public protests and disasters elsewhere, China has emerged as the world’s last great believer, with plans to generate an eye-popping amount of nuclear energy, quickly and at relatively low cost, the report said.

In contrast, the US, France and Japan have reduced interest in nuclear power.

It would be the kind of wholesale energy transformation that Western democracies — with budget constraints, political will and public opinion to consider — can only dream of. 

“Nuclear is the one energy source that came out of this looking like a champion,” said David Fishman, an energy consultant with The Lantau Group, told Bloomberg.

“It generated the whole time, it was clean, the price didn’t change. If the case for nuclear power wasn’t already strong, it’s a lot stronger now.”

The goal, as articulated by the chairman of the state-backed China General Nuclear Power Corp., is to generate 200 gigawatts by 2035, enough to power more than a dozen cities the size of Beijing.

Furthermore, China says its plans could prevent about 1.5 billion tons of annual carbon emissions, more than what’s generated by the UK, Spain, France and Germany combined.

Rolls-Royce says its SMR technology is a clean energy solution which can deliver cost competitive and scalable net zero power for multiple applications from grid and industrial electricity production to hydrogen and synthetic fuel manufacturing. Credit: Rolls-Royce.

And speaking of the UK, BBC News reports that Rolls-Royce has been backed by a consortium of private investors and the UK government to develop small nuclear reactors to generate cleaner energy.

The creation of the Small Modular Reactor (SMR) business was announced following a £195m cash injection from private firms and a £210m grant from the government.

It is hoped the new company could create up to 40,000 jobs by 2050.

The investment by Rolls-Royce Group, BNF Resources, Exelon Generation and the government will go towards developing Rolls-Royce’s SMR design and take it through regulatory processes to assess whether it is suitable to be deployed in the UK.

Around 21% of Britain’s electricity supply is provided by nuclear power.

The plan is thought to include the construction of an initial four Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) based on the technology used in nuclear powered submarines.

These reactors will be capable of generating nearly 500 megawatts of power — three times as much as much as most existing nuclear submarine reactors but more than six times less than the 3.2 gigawatts that the large plant under construction at Hinkley Point will deliver.

Hinkley is expected to produce enough power to supply 6 million homes.

The investment is intended to fund the project up to the stage where the reactor design receives approval. No decision has yet been made on how the construction cost will be financed.

At an expected ultimate cost of around £2bn each, they should cost less than a tenth of the £20bn each of Hinkley and an anticipated, but not yet approved, sister plant at Sizewell in Suffolk.

Industry sources say they hope that these SMRs would be operational within a decade.

The International Atomic Energy Authority says that “prefabricated units of SMRs can be manufactured and then shipped and installed on-site, making them more affordable to build than large power reactors, which are often custom designed for a particular location, sometimes leading to construction delays.

“SMRs offer savings in cost and construction time, and they can be deployed incrementally to match increasing energy demand.”

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said SMRs offered opportunities to “cut costs and build more quickly, ensuring we can bring clean electricity to people’s homes and cut our already-dwindling use of volatile fossil fuels even further.”

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the UK to deploy more low carbon energy than ever before and ensure greater energy independence,” he added.

Sources: Bloomberg, BBC News, The Register