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Rolls-Royce Beats Out Gates’ Terrapower In UK Nuclear Competition

  • GB Nuclear selected Rolls-Royce, EDF, GE-Hitachi, Holtec Britain, Nuscale, and Westinghouse Electric for the next competition stage.
  • Concerns over Terrapower's reliance on Russian-produced uranium reportedly influenced the decision.
  • The UK government emphasizes small modular reactors to rejuvenate domestic nuclear energy, aiming for a significant ramp-up in nuclear generation by the mid-2030s.
Nuclear Power

Bill Gates’ nuclear reactor design company Terrapower has not been shortlisted for the next round of the government’s competition for scaled-down power plants.

Industry vehicle GB Nuclear has selected six companies to advance to the latest stage, including rumoured front-runner Rolls-Royce which has already secured over £200m in government funding.

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The remaining contenders also include EDF, GE-Hitachi, Holtec Britain, Nuscale and Westinghouse Electric.

These companies will be invited to bid for government contracts later this year, with successful companies announced next spring and contracts awarded in the summer.

Gates, the world’s fifth richest man and the co-creator of Microsoft, founded Terrapower in 2006.

He is currently the company’s chairman and is still their biggest investor, leading a £588.3m funding round last year.

The company has been pitching bespoke ‘Natrium’ reactors powered by high-assay low-enriched uranium and announced its intentions earlier this year to enter the UK race for projects.

However, Whitehall officials have reportedly been concerned over insufficient supplies to import at scale to meet demand for Terrapower reactors, as most of the uranium it needs is produced in Russia – which is under sanctions following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

City A.M. understands GB Nuclear wanted to prioritise the most ready-made technologies which could guarantee a final investment decision by the end of the decade.

Instead, Terrapower could feature in an upcoming consultation on advanced technology.

Small modular reactors are a cornerstone of the government’s plan to revive domestic nuclear energy and replace the country’s ageing fleet – with 85 per cent of the country’s current capacity set to go offline over the next 12 years.

The energy security strategy, published after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, targets a ramp up in nuclear generation from 7GW to 24GW – which would take the energy source to 25 per cent of the UK’s supply mix.

The advantage of SMRs is they can be built in factories and are assembled much more cheaply than their large scale counterparts.

Downing Street is targeting operational SMRs in the UK by the mid-2030s, with a £20bn cap being placed on the competitive process.

Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said: “This competition has attracted designs from around the world and puts the UK at the front of the global race to develop this exciting, cutting-edge technology and cement our position as a world leader in nuclear innovation.”

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Gwen Parry-Jones, chief executive of Great British Nuclear added: “Our priority in this process has been to prioritise reliable and sustainable power to the grid early, and that’s why we have focused our first step on the technologies that we viewed as most likely to meet the objective of a final investment decision in 2029.”

Terrapower and the government have both been approached for comment.

By CityAM

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Leave a comment
  • Peter Farley on October 02 2023 said:
    It is amazing how much private and government is being spent to support a near-useless technology. In 1987, Scientific American promised us SMRs in four years, still none.
    There are no sound reasons to believe that savings due to partial manufacturing in a factory will be sufficient to offset the diseconomies of small size and lifetime inefficiencies, security concerns etc of small reactors.

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