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Rolls-Royce plans to bring its factory-built nuclear plants to Gulf

Rolls-Royce's design for its small modular reactor Rolls-Royce SMR/Cover Images via Reuters
Rolls-Royce's design for its small modular reactor
  • UK company wants to create ‘global fleet’ of small modular reactors
  • First power plant set to be operational by the early 2030s

Rolls-Royce is eyeing opportunities to bring its nuclear reactors to the Middle East as part of the region’s efforts to combat climate change.

The UK industrial company is developing a small modular reactor (SMR) that uses pressurised water reactor technology, with the reactor components built in factory conditions and assembled on site.

Nine-tenths of a Rolls-Royce SMR power plant will be built or assembled in factories and a significant portion could be delivered by a UAE supply chain, according to Harry Keeling, head of industrial markets at Rolls-Royce.

Keeling said: “We will have a suite of factories in every global region, and we expect to have them in the Middle East as well. It’s the supply chain that feeds into the factories, it’s the factories that feed into the global fleet of SMRs. Here in the UAE you have a combination of all of those things coming together.”

The development of Rolls-Royce’s SMR has been supported with a British government grant of about £210 million ($260 million). Funds have also come from Rolls-Royce and partners including the Qatar Investment Authority, which is providing £85 million.

Keeling explained that the company plans to have its first plant putting energy into the grid by the early 2030s. The licensing process must be completed first, which is expected in early 2025. The first factories will then be constructed in the UK.

A single Rolls-Royce SMR has the capacity to generate 470MW of energy, enough to power 1 million homes. It will occupy the footprint of two football pitches. 

Keeling said: “When we look at the countries, we’re most interested in, for us it’s countries that already have nuclear capabilities, countries that are looking to decarbonise and have clear decarbonisation targets, and crucially countries that want to grow are all key targets for us.

“In the UAE we’re confident that a significant portion of our plant could soon be manufactured here.”

Nuclear power is a key component of the Emirates’ strategy to reach net zero by 2050. The Barakah plant in Abu Dhabi began operations in 2021. Three of its four reactors are now connected to the national grid, with commissioning under way for the fourth. When fully operational, Barakah is expected to eliminate 22.4 million tons of carbon emissions each year.

Keeling said: “With Barakah here you have the poster child of how nuclear can be rolled out quickly. It’s by far the record and set a target for all nuclear vendors globally. So, how can we leverage what is now just a very mature capability in-country for our own programme?”