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Bechtel joins 'mini nuclear' race ahead of government competition launch

US engineering giant Bechtel has revealed its intention to develop small modular reactors in the UK, a week ahead of the expected launch of a government competition for funding for the technology.

Bechtel said it had reached agreement with nuclear technology specialist BWX Technologies (a division of Babcock and Wilcox) to pursue “accelerated development” of Britain’s first commercially viable small modular reactor.

In last November’s Spending Review, chancellor George Osborne unveiled a £250m SMR research and development fund, as well as his intention to launch a funding competition to help get the UK’s first SMR plant online by the end of the 2020s.

Construction News understands that the competition will be launched in next week’s Budget.

Bechtel and BWX’s Generation mPower joint venture joins NuScale Power and Westinghouse in declaring their intention to bid for development funding from the government.

The partnership will put forward BWX’s Generation III++ design to be used in SMR plants in the UK.

The same design was set to be used in 2011, when Generation mPower announced that it was set to develop the world’s first commercially viable SMR plant in Tennessee.

The project fell through, with the JV announcing it would scale back investment in SMR development as a result.

The JV cited opportunities in the UK as a crucial driver of its new agreement.

Bechtel’s UK business development manager Alastair Dick said: “We’re excited about Generation mPower’s potential and encouraged by the UK government’s policy to develop SMR technology.

“Bechtel takes the long view on nuclear power and small modular reactors are a part of our outlook. Generation mPower is a strong proposition that is well placed for future investment and assessment.”

SMRs are seen as a more flexible option for providing nuclear power, as they take less time to construct and can be built in a wider variety of locations than traditional plants.

All three bidders competing for the funding were named by the National Nuclear Laboratory in its 2014 SMR feasibility study as companies with the capability to bring the technology to market in the UK.

Baby Nuclear: Are small modular reactors the future? Read Construction News’ analysis here

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