Rolls-Royce reveals mini nuclear reactor plans for weaning off fossil fuels

24 Jan 2020

Image: © Parilov/

This week in future tech, Rolls-Royce plans to build and install a series of mini nuclear reactors that it claims could compete price-wise with wind energy.

While perhaps best known for its range of luxury cars, British engineering giant Rolls-Royce has announced plans to bring nuclear fission energy on the micro scale. Speaking to the BBC, the company’s CTO, Paul Stein, said the power stations would be modular for easy assembly and will be installed in parts of the UK by 2029.

Between 10 and 15 power stations are likely to be built as part of a consortium led by Rolls-Royce and each reactor will need just 10 acres of land to be built on.

“The trick is to have prefabricated parts where we use advanced digital welding methods and robotic assembly and then parts are shipped to site and bolted together,” Stein said.

The nuclear industry believes that such mini reactors can compete with offshore wind on price. Rolls-Royce has said it plans to overcome potential cost barriers by selling its small modular reactors internationally.

However, critics have responded to the news saying the low construction cost put forward by Rolls-Royce and others “may prove overstated”.

Paul Dorfman of University College London has said: “The potential cost benefits of assembly line module construction relative to custom-build on-site construction may prove overstated.

“Production line mistakes may lead to generic defects that propagate throughout an entire fleet of reactors and are costly to fix. It’s far more economic to build one 1.2GW unit than a dozen 100MW units.”

EV and hybrid sales rise in 2019 in a slumping new car market

A report published by showed that 14,984 new electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids were sold in Ireland in 2019. This is a 68pc year-on-year increase – or more than 6,000 car sales – compared with 2018.

However, hybrid cars make up the vast majority of that figure, with new EV sales making up around 3pc of the total number of cars sold in 2019. The total figure for new cars sold is down 7pc when compared with 2018.

The best selling new EVs in Ireland were the Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Kona, both selling 1,086 each.

“Every month, 1,250 new EV and hybrid cars are now rolling off the nation’s forecourts,” said’s Martin Clancy.

“In Dublin alone, over 6,000 were sold in 2019. It’s a similar pattern across the major cities. In Cork 1,835 new EV and hybrid units were sold. Galway witnessed a 55pc year-on-year surge with sales of 660 new hybrid and EVs. Meanwhile, Limerick (454) and Waterford (270) all witnessed substantial year-on-year increases.”

Amazon promises to make its Indian delivery fleet electric

During a recent trip to India, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced that his company will add 10,000 EV rickshaws to its delivery fleet by 2025. The roll-out will start this year in a number of Indian cities including New Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Nagpur, and Coimbatore.

The launch is part of the company’s Shipment Zero promise, which is working to make its vast e-commerce platform achieve net-zero carbon. However, as Interesting Engineering points out, critics have taken to Twitter to question where the electricity to power these EVs will come from.

Approximately 72pc of India’s electricity is generated by coal power alone.

Irish start-up sends ocean drone to survey offshore windfarm

Xocean, which recently raised €7.9m, has sent its XO-450 uncrewed surface vessel (USV) to carry out seabed surveys of seven wind turbines at the Greater Gabbard offshore windfarm, 23km off the UK coast. The USV is about the size of an average car, weighs 750kg and can be monitored and controlled 24/7 via a satellite connection.

Throughout the survey, the data collected was monitored from shore in real time by experts located in the UK, to validate data collection before the vessel departed the work locations. This was part of a joint venture between SSE Renewables and Innogy.

Commenting on the project, James Ives, CEO of Xocean, said: “Our USV platform has demonstrated itself to be a safe, reliable and low-carbon solution for the collection of ocean data. We are delighted to be working with SSE and Innogy on this ground-breaking project.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic