Rolls-Royce to potentially build a nuclear power station in Estonia


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Rolls-Royce, a British engineering giant, and Fermi Energia, an Estonian energy company, have signed a memorandum of understanding to study the potential for the deployment of affordable, compact nuclear power stations in Estonia. 

The study will cover all aspects of deployment including grid suitability, cooling, emergency planning, human resources, licensing feasibility, economics and supply chain, Rolls-Royce said in a press release.

Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium that is designing a low-cost factory-built nuclear power station, known as a small modular reactor – or SMR for short. “Its standardised, factory-made components and advanced manufacturing processes push costs down, while the rapid assembly of the modules and components inside a weatherproof canopy on the power station site itself avoid costly schedule disruptions,” the company said.

A rendering of a compact nuclear power station, built by the consortium led by Rolls-Royce. Image by Rolls-Royce.

These nuclear power stations, each providing at least 440MW of electricity, would be operational within a decade, Rolls-Royce said. The company has never built a nuclear power plant before, but it is not new to the technology – it has designed, supplied and supported the nuclear propulsion plant that provides power for all of the UK Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines since 1966.

Estonia’s low carbon energy future

According to Tom Samson, the interim CEO of the consortium, “nuclear power is central to tackling climate change and energy security”. “To do this, it must be affordable, reliable and investable and the way we manufacture and assemble our power station brings its cost down to be comparable with offshore wind,” he said.

“It’s a compelling proposition that has a clear role to play in Estonia’s low carbon energy future and we’re delighted to be working with Fermi Energia to find ways to make that happen as soon as possible,” Samson added.

Vaivara, Ida-Virumaa. Estonian electricity is produced by first digging up huge swaths of some of the most picturesque landscapes in Ida-Virumaa, collecting millions of metric tons of dirt-like oil shale and then just burning it all. The byproduct of this hardcore practice is… even cooler-looking landscapes. Unnatural, sure, but after the mines and massive ash-piles have been deserted, new life begins in those artificial hillocks.
Vaivara, Ida-Virumaa. Estonian electricity is produced by first digging up huge swaths of some of the most picturesque landscapes in Ida-Virumaa, collecting millions of metric tons of dirt-like oil shale and then just burning it all. Estonia is now looking for more environmentally friendly ways to generate energy. Photo by Tõnu Runnel.

Fermi Energia was established in 2019 by Estonian energy professionals and entrepreneurs with an aim to deploy multiple small modular reactors with a combined output in the in range of 900-1200MWe.

Estonia has never had a nuclear power station before, but as the country’s government has decided to exit oil shale power generation by 2035, it is looking for alternative ways to generate energy.

One of the credible designs

Kalev Kallemets, the CEO and co-founder of Fermi Energia, said in a statement that his company will consider Rolls-Royce SMR as one of the credible designs. “Rolls-Royce SMR certainly fits the bill with strong UK government commitment on carbon neutrality and nuclear energy with appropriate national financing on Rolls-Royce SMR development,” he said.

The power stations would be built by the Rolls-Royce-led consortium, before being handed over to be operated by power generation companies.

The London-based Rolls-Royce Holdings plc is primarily known as the world’s second-largest maker of aircraft engines, but it also designs, manufactures and distributes power systems for other industries and has major businesses in the marine propulsion and energy sectors. The company owned the Rolls-Royce car business until 1973 and the car brand until 1998, when it was sold to BMW.

Cover: A rendering of a compact nuclear power station, built by the consortium led by Rolls-Royce. Image by Rolls-Royce.

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