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28 January, 2019 - 18:23 By Tony Quested

Rolls-Royce maps out wider role in delivery of nuclear power

UK engineering icon Rolls-Royce, headed by ex-Arm CEO Warren East, is building an impressive case to become a global leader in delivering nuclear power on multiple fronts.

It is not only in talks with the Chinese to provide control systems for a multi-billion pound power plant at Bradwell on the Essex coast but also is scaling its bid to start building low-carbon power Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) which would rely on a number of synergistic Rolls-Royce technologies.

The development and operation of SMRs would also draw on a broad raft of existing skill sets within the UK company’s existing nuclear armoury.

The SMR strategy and potential long-term payback dwarfs the amount Rolls-Royce could earn from supplying purely control systems to China’s CGN for Bradwell if the plant receives UK government go-ahead.

Warren East (pictured) was unavailable for comment but is known to be passionate about the company’s potential to deliver ultra low-carbon power technologies to nuclear plants, submarines, the military and other segments.

Because “the world needs more low-carbon power than ever,” Rolls-Royce is leading a UK consortium to develop an affordable power plant that generates electricity using a small modular reactor – what a spokesperson calls “an intelligent way to meet our future energy needs.”

The spokesperson added: “The certainty behind our UK SMR technology is the foundation of a sound business case for owners, operators, utilities and governments. Knowing build costs and the price of the electricity generated makes nuclear energy an option for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it.”

Rolls-Royce is in talks with the UK government in a bid to accelerate the SMR programme. It is simultaneously continuing discussions with CGN re Bradwell and is rapidly lining up a potential ‘best of both worlds’ windfall.

Using Rolls-Royce technology for control systems at Bradwell – even though CGN has its own – would allay UK government fears about safety and security if a Chinese operator were to enjoy full governance over every aspect of Bradwell.

The control system is effectively the central nervous system of a nuclear power plant, driving the reactor and allowing it to be safely shut down in a perceived or genuine emergency.

The talks between Rolls-Royce and CGN have been ongoing – on and off to be precise – for two to three years but meaningful dialogue continues. 

In truth, Rolls-Royce would like to clinch the Bradwell deal – worth unspecified but many millions – AND get the green light for the SMR roll-out. The handsome revenues inherent in both power plays would help East complete an impressive turnaround at Rolls-Royce since he left Cambridge to revive the engineering group’s global fortunes.

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