UK SMR contest deadline pushed back two weeks

11 June 2024

A fortnight's extension - until after the general election - has been given for the submission of documentation by the six contenders in the UK's small modular reactor selection process.

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

The date for the next stage of the selection process has changed from 24 June to 8 July, and it means the bids will be handed in after the election, on 4 July, of the next UK government.

The UK aims to grow nuclear energy capacity to 24 GW by 2050, with a mix of traditional large-scale power plants and small modular reactors (SMRs). Last year, the new 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, Holtec, NuScale Power, Rolls Royce SMR and Westinghouse were invited to bid for UK government contracts in the next stage of the process.

The delay was reported by Energy Intelligence as being the result of a request from one of the bidding companies, and it is understood not to be to have been prompted by the election taking place.

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 - 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.

Bowen said he thought that two or three technology providers being selected would be the optimum number, with each one having an allocated site with the potential to host multiple SMRs. He said that GBN would also support private sector-led SMR projects separate to the SMR contest it is running.

The UK general election is due to take place on 4 July. At the moment the BBC's opinion poll tracker puts the opposition Labour Party on 44% compared with 23% for the Conservatives. Labour has yet to publish its manifesto but its energy programme supports new nuclear capacity and includes the aim to "get new nuclear projects at Hinkley and Sizewell over the line, extending the lifetime of existing plants, and backing new nuclear including small modular reactors".

The Conservative Party manifesto, published on Tuesday, says that if it was in power after the election "within the first 100 days of the next Parliament, we will approve two new fleets of small modular reactors" and "halve the time it takes for new nuclear reactors to be approved, by allowing regulators to assess projects while designs are being finalised, improving join-up with overseas regulators assessing the same technology and speeding up planning and environmental approvals".

According to the BBC poll figures Reform UK is running third with 14% support. Its policy pledges include more new nuclear, including SMRs. The Liberal Democrats are on 10% - their manifesto does not mention nuclear energy. The third largest party in the UK Parliament before the election - the Scottish National Party, which does not contest seats outside of the Scotland - is opposed to nuclear energy.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News