A consortium headed by engineering giant Rolls Royce has revealed it expects to develop its first-of-a-kind small nuclear reactors in Cumbria.

Alan Woods, director of strategy and business development at Rolls Royce, told delegates at the Global Reach 2019 event that is was focusing its efforts on developing its emerging Small Modular Reactors (SMR) at existing nuclear licensed sites – with Cumbria and Wales its top targets.

In July the Government said it will invest up to £18 million to support the design of the UK-made mini nuclear power stations. And this week UK Research and Innovation pledged to provide a further £18m, which will be matched by members of the consortium, to progress the project.

Both the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Copeland Trudy Harrison and Copeland Borough Council have vowed to up the ante on lobbying the Government to push for SMRs to be developed in Copeland, following the demise of plans for a large-scale nuclear power station at the Moorside site.

Mrs Harrison has previously said the licensed sites of Sellafield, Moorside and Fellside are “common sense locations” for SMRs.

Mrs Woods told the conference – organised by the Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster’s shadow of young people working in Cumbria’s nuclear sector – that despite being at the design stage, it was already eyeing sites.

“They will be built on existing nuclear licensed sites,” he said.

“We expect to build them on sites in Wales and particularly in Cumbria. That’s where we’re focusing, that’s where we’ll put our effort.”

Mr Woods also stressed the benefits of SMRs in relation to large power station developments, which are notorious for running late and over budget, and the impact they could have in helping the UK to eradicate all CO2 emissions by 2050.

He said. “All our focus has been on reducing the capital, absolutely reducing the construction period, and removing risks where we can. It opens the market to much greater potential investors. We have to make them cost competitive.

“To me, this is fundamental to the UK economy. We don’t just have the opportunity to regenerate areas that currently do nuclear, but also export.

“That is our main objective. This isn’t about reactors, it is all about innovation for benefit.”

The consortium – which also includes the National Nuclear Laboratory, Wood, Atkins, Laing O’Rourke, Assystem, BAM Nuttall, The Welding Institute (TWI) and Nuclear AMRC – aims to have the first working model up-and-running in the early 2030s.

The SMRs are roughly the size of a one-and-a-half football pitches, can be constructed off site before installation and are cheaper to manufacture than their large-scale equivalents.

Construction is expected to take around four years per station, although the first unit would be longer, said Mr Woods.

The consortium says it is targeting a £1.8bn cost for each station, which would be operational for 60 years and provide 440MW of electricity, which is enough to power a city the size of Leeds.

By 2050, it hopes to have a programme of 16 of its power stations, creating up to 40,000 jobs, generating £52bn for the UK economy along with £250bn worth of exports.

Businesses in Cumbria have met with the consortium to showcase their expertise and capability in a bid to be involved in the manufacture of the plants.

Appetite for SMRs has grown in the past few years following the collapse of the NuGen’s £15bn large-scale development at the Moorside site, and the shelving of two other similarly sized projects in Wales and Gloucestershire over the eye-watering up-front costs involved.

However, industry insiders still believe a large-scale plant is more suited to the vast Moorside site adjacent to Sellafield. And hopes remain high that a new development will come forward for the site once the Government unveils a new way of financially supporting new plants, with the most likely option a Regulated Asset Base Model.

The Global Reach 2019 conference also heard from Rob Davies, chief operating officer at CGN UK, who described Moorside as a “smart site” when asked last year if the Chinese company would be interested in building a power station there.

He spoke to delegates about the benefits of delivering a fleet of nuclear power stations in the UK, helping to drive down the costs and risks involved, while at the same time building up a skilled and significant workforce.

“We need a drum beat and sequence to keep new build going, with a workforce moving across from one project to another,” he said.

“Renewables is in overdrive – it is ambitious, delivering benefits of the fleet. Nuclear is in a lower gear and less coherent.

“Unless you build a fleet, you will not do it. We want an industrial partnership between UK and China.”

CGN is already heavily involved in the UK’s nuclear new build plans.

It is a partner in the under-construction Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset, as well as planned developments for Bradwell B in Essex and Sizewell C in Somerset.