NUCLEAR correspondent Bridget Dempsey talks to the people at the heart of a 'mission’ to bring 'small modular reactors' to the county...

A new dawn is set for Cumbria as Rolls-Royce's small modular reactors (SMRs) look set to be built on land near Sellafield before the end of the decade.

The announcement about the Rolls Royce SMRs has been quickly followed by the launch of a new company – the Solway Community Power Company headed by former Sellafield Chief Executive Paul Foster.

The community power company was created to make Cumbria the ‘perfect customer’ for Rolls-Royce who have already prioritised land near Sellafield as one of four sites across the UK for their ground-breaking reactors.

The company aims to secure the land for the reactors to be based, as well as get investors who will be able to buy, own and operate them.

News and Star: Paul Foster, speaking at the launch of The Solway Community Power CompanyPaul Foster, speaking at the launch of The Solway Community Power Company (Image: Supplied)

Paul Foster, chair of the Solway Community Power Company says: “We are basically the catalyst and Cumbria is the crucible.

“The point is it’s all there; all the ingredients are there but it just needs us to spark it and make it happen.

"We don’t want to be a big entity, this is purely for Solway, but the point is this model can be replicated across the country so if other communities want to replicate it, they can, but they will be leaning on what Cumbria has done so we are leading the way again.

“It’s almost going back 180 years to the birth of the steel industry and the late 40s with the birth of international nuclear management.

“It’s a time when we are the firsts again bringing innovation to bear. That’s the story and we will be doing it with government permission not at the grace of government, expecting them to give us it.”

He is confident the new reactors will be in West Cumbria by the end of the decade.

“I think it is a matter of when, this is the perfect place with the perfect tech, the thing we do want though is the sooner we start this, the sooner we get the benefits. It will take around nine years to get the power on the bars but the economic activity... that starts soon.

“We will be placing orders at the turn of the year because we want environmental studies to begin in the spring.

“It’s not just about the 'when', the 'when' is great, but if you are waiting for the 'when' then you’re not getting the benefits.

“This is why I am keen for Cumbria to start now, so for me it’s not a matter of 'if' it’s a matter of 'when' but the quicker we can make the 'when' the better for all of us,” he says.

Mr Foster said the response to the company has been ‘overwhelmingly positive’ with widespread support throughout the supply chain and wider community.

He says: “I think it’s largely been a thing of when somebody does something and people say why hasn’t anyone done that before it looks remarkably simple.

“It just makes sense. You have got UK tech right next to Sellafield in the best nuclear community in the country, why wouldn’t you? That’s what we have just said, we will do that bit that’s missing.”

News and Star: Copeland MP Trudy Harrison at the launch of the new companyCopeland MP Trudy Harrison at the launch of the new company (Image: Supplied)

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison has been a key advocate for the reactors and believes the Solway Community Power Company is ‘another significant piece in the jigsaw that will secure Rolls Royce in Copeland’.

The MP has highlighted the many benefits that the reactors will bring to both the borough of Copeland, the county, and the wider UK – especially at a time when clean energy is needed more than ever.

She said: “Tangibly 470MW would provide the equivalent of what’s needed to power about one million homes, we are looking at two of these which is just shy of a gigawatt. So the potential to power two million homes with clean green electricity is super, but the real benefit here is not putting that power down the grid it’s actually empowering perhaps a hydrogen electrolyser, perhaps a data centre, perhaps a chemical processing plant for sustainable aviation fuel.

"Those are when the real benefits come to our area because when you have got power you have got electricity, clean electricity the whole world of opportunities is even more realised and that’s really what we need to make sure we do.

“That’s what both Paul and I spoke about - how local companies can get involved early and make the most of this opportunity.

“But of course, it’s also 40,000 jobs, it's apprenticeships, it’s the supply chain, the provision of steel: 180,000 tonnes of steel for just one power station.

“It’s all the indirect jobs that would be created by those people being in the area.”

Rolls-Royce SMR matched land near Sellafield and the other sites against a set of assessment criteria that will enable stations to be operational by the early 2030s, including: existing geotechnical data, adequate grid connection and a site large enough to deploy multiple SMRs.

READ MORE: Carlisle on shortlist for Rolls Royce SMR production plant

Each Rolls-Royce SMR would create enough clean energy to power a million homes for 60 years.

Tom Samson, chief executive of Rolls-Royce SMR, says: “Rolls-Royce SMR has enormous potential to generate large amounts of low-carbon, sustainable electricity for at least 60 years and provide a positive long-lasting contribution to the communities where they’re deployed. 

“West Cumbria is a priority site for us to deploy the first in a fleet of Rolls-Royce SMR power stations on land owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and I’m delighted the Solway Community Power Company has chosen Rolls-Royce SMRs - the UK’s sovereign nuclear technology. 

“Paul Foster is one of the UK’s most respected figures in the nuclear industry and, with the support of Trudy Harrison MP and the local community, he is ideally placed to move quickly to bring new nuclear power to the region – which is widely recognised as the UK’s nuclear heartland.

"Rolls-Royce SMR is committed to bringing new nuclear on stream as close to 2030 as possible and I’m delighted we’re working with Solway to make that happen.”

READ MORE: Land near Sellafield prioritise by Rolls Royce for SMRs