Rolls-Royce going nuclear: Plans call for series of mini atomic power stations

Each station could power a city of half-a-million residents

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Illustration shows an example of the enclosed mini nuclear power station Rolls-Royce and members of its consortium plan to produce | Rolls-Royce photo

Maybe the Ford Nucleon wasn’t so far-fetched after all?

OK, the 1958 Ford concept car powered by a small nuclear reactor mounted behind the passenger compartment was never going to be practical. But it was one designer’s and one automaker’s vision for a way to power cars in the Nuclear Age.

What rekindles thoughts of the Nucleon are media reports from the BBC and NewAtlas.com that Rolls-Royce plans to build as many as 15 mini nuclear reactors in England. 

In November 2019, the energy-supplying arm of Rolls-Royce announced that UK Research and Innovation was providing match funding to a consortium of companies developing “a new type of nuclear power station in the UK.”

Rolls-Royce is the leader of that consortium and said as many as 16 such power stations could be going online by 2050, with the first late in operation during this decade.

“The power station is a compact design, the components for which are manufactured in sections in regional UK factories, before being transported to existing nuclear sites for rapid assembly inside a weatherproof canopy,” Rolls-Royce said in a news release. “This cuts costs by avoiding weather disruptions and secures gradual efficiency savings by using streamlined and standardized manufacturing processes for its components.”

The project would create as many as 40,000 jobs. Each station would operate for 60 years and would provide enough energy to power a city of half-a-million residents. In addition to England, the mini-reactor stations could be exported, perhaps producing as much as a $250 billion benefit for England.

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“Tackling climate change requires collaboration across industries and governments to find effective, affordable and sustainable ways of achieving net zero by 2050,” PaulStein, Rolls-Royce chief technology officer, was quoted.

“The consortium’s work with the Government shows that action is being taken to decarbonize our economy and meet our society’s vital and growing power needs. This is a very positive step forward to this next phase of the program.”

NewAtlas.com reported that 448 civilian nuclear reactors are in operation around the world and another 53 are under construction, primarily in Asia and Eastern Europe.

A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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