EDF withdraws from UK's SMR selection competition

09 July 2024

While other shortlisted vendors have submitted bids for their respective small modular reactor (SMR) designs, EDF has withdrawn its Nuward model from Great British Nuclear's SMR selection contest.

How each of the shortlisted six designs might look (Composite image: Holtec, Rolls-Royce, Nuward, NuScale, GE Hitachi, Westinghouse)

The UK aims to grow nuclear energy capacity to 24 GW by 2050, with a mix of traditional large-scale power plants and SMRs. Last year, the Great British Nuclear (GBN) arms-length body, set up to help deliver that extra capacity, began the selection process for which SMR technology to use. In October, EDF, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), Holtec, NuScale Power, Rolls-Royce SMR and Westinghouse were invited to bid for UK government contracts in the next stage of the process.

In early June, the deadline for submitting bids was delayed by two weeks, from 24 June to 8 July, four days after the general election that led to a change from a Conservative to Labour government in the UK. The deadline delay was believed to be at the request of one of the bidders rather than relating to the election.

An EDF spokesperson told World Nuclear News the company had decided "to pull out of the SMR competition due to incompatibility between the level of commitment and the time schedule required by GBN and the level of maturity of the Nuward SMR".

The move comes just days after EDF announced it planned to do further work to optimise the design of its Nuward SMR, focusing on existing and proven technologies. That decision followed feedback from potential European customers and was taken in order to guarantee project deadlines and budgets would be met. EDF did not say whether the reactor's redesign would have an impact on the Nuward project's budget and timeline.

Bid submissions

GEH announced it submitted its tender response by providing documentation in support of its BWRX-300 SMR technology.

"We have entered this competition with a proven track record of progressing SMR reactor technology internationally, a fuel that is already licensed and in operation, and a reactor designed for manufacture," said Andy Champ, GEH UK Country Leader. "Our BWRX-300 has evolved from proven, simple, boiling water reactor technology and is not just smaller, but through innovation even further simplified. We believe this uniquely positions us to reliably deliver an SMR with the most value for money and along with our strategic investment partners, be a valuable partner to the UK Government as it strives to reach its net-zero target by 2050.

"We have a strong and growing team here in the UK, and we are confident that our SMR represents the lowest risk and highest reward choice for Great British Nuclear. We look forward to the outcome of the competition and the opportunity to play a pivotal role in helping to deliver not just Great British Nuclear's ambitions, but also the new Government's mission to make the UK a green energy superpower."

In a LinkedIn post, Rolls-Royce SMR said it too had submitted its tender response to GBN. "This is an extremely exciting time for Rolls-Royce SMR which stands ready to move rapidly to the next phase," the company said. "Selection by GBN before the end of the year will unlock supply chain investment, job creation and enormous opportunities to export this unique product to countries around the world that are seeking to strengthen their energy security with a long-term, low-carbon solution."

Also on LinkedIn, Holtec announced it had submitted its tender, noting its proposal "is strengthened by the collaboration with our esteemed partners, including Hyundai Engineering & Construction. Holtec is uniquely positioned to serve as the vehicle for US, UK, and South Korean strategic cooperation".

It added: "The stakes have never been higher for SMR-300 joint deployment to provide UK energy security. We look forward to the opportunity to partner with Great British Nuclear and to playing a pivotal role in the ongoing evolution of the UK nuclear industry."

NuScale said in a post on X that it had submitted a tender response for its VOYGR SMR. "With the only SMR tech that has completed R&D, secured regulatory approvals, and begun manufacturing, we are ready to deploy reliable, clean nuclear power in the UK," it said.

The other technology provider in the contest is Westinghouse, with its AP300 SMR. It submitted an application to the UK's Department of Energy Security and Net Zero in February for approval to enter the Generic Design Assessment, which allows regulators to assess the safety, security and environmental implications of new reactor designs, separately from applications to build them at specific sites.

"The AP300 SMR is an evolution of our advanced AP1000 reactor, which is now deployed in both China and the United States and licensed in the UK," Westinghouse said. "The pedigree of the AP300 SMR, its proven technology, and real supply chain base make it and Westinghouse the perfect fit for delivering GBN’s and the UK Government’s important energy security and net-zero goals."

Rita Baranwal, Westinghouse Senior Vice President for the AP300 SMR, added: "This partnership can deliver clean, reliable energy for UK consumers for decades to come, powering a century or more of growth and prosperity in the UK.  We are proud to propose our proven APX (AP300 and AP1000) technology, coupled with our skilled UK workforce and more than 75 years of nuclear manufacturing experience in country, to create a true partnership with GBN."

The background

In an interview earlier this year for the World Nuclear News podcast, GBN Chairman Simon Bowen said the planned timeline was for the SMR selection shortlist to be cut to around four after the submission of responses to the tender, with the goal of placing contracts by the end of the year with two or three technology providers - this would be for co-funding the technology all the way through to completion of the design, regulatory, environmental and site-specific permissions process, and the potential to place a contract for the supply of equipment. Each selected technology would have an allocated site with the potential to host multiple SMRs.

The aim is then for a final investment decision to be taken in 2029.

It is not yet clear what impact the change of government might have on the selection process, although the in-coming Labour Government has been pro-nuclear energy and said in its election manifesto it would "end a decade of dithering that has seen the Conservatives duck decisions on nuclear power. We will ensure the long-term security of the sector, extending the lifetime of existing plants, and we will get Hinkley Point C over the line. New nuclear power stations, such as Sizewell C, and small modular reactors, will play an important role in helping the UK achieve energy security and clean power while securing thousands of good, skilled jobs".

Researched and written by World Nuclear News