The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has been asked to begin the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process for Roll-Royce’s planned 470MW small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear power station.

The request was submitted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) following the completion of its initial screening process.

The GDA process, which also involves the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales, assesses the environmental, safety and security aspects of reactor designs separately from any site-specific concerns. The regulators will provide advice to the designers about any issues they identify to enable them to be resolved at an early stage.

Rolls-Royce described the request as “the most significant step so far in securing consent for operation in the UK”.

As indicated by the name, SMRs will be smaller than conventional nuclear power stations and will be built as prefabricated modules before being transported onsite for final assembly. The underlying aim is to lower the cost of nuclear power by building a larger number of smaller standardised reactors in factory conditions.

Rolls-Royce said its SMR design draws upon well-established pressurised water reactor technology. Last year, the company was awarded £210 million by the UK Research and Innovation from the government’s £385 million Advanced Nuclear Fund to help take its design through regulatory processes.

Rolls-Royce SMR chief executive, Tom Samson, said: “Entering the GDA assessment process is another major milestone as we head at pace towards our goal of deploying a fleet of SMRs which will produce affordable, low carbon electricity – helping meet future energy demands and reach our net zero targets.

“The UK regulatory process is internationally recognised and respected. We welcome the scrutiny and challenge that goes into the assessment of our nuclear power plant design.”

Helena Perry, regulatory and safety affairs director, added: “Rolls-Royce SMR has a dedicated team with previous experience in GDA, licensing and permitting.

“We have a collaborative relationship with the UK regulators and are using all our experience and learning to move at pace through the GDA process.”

A spokesperson for the Nuclear Industry Association described the announcement as a “vital step forward for British nuclear technology”.

They added: “The UK needs the Rolls-Royce SMR to strengthen our energy security and cut our dependence on gas as we move toward net zero.

“The SMR can also play an essential role in enhancing British industrial capability, creating tens of thousands of jobs, revitalising the nuclear skills base and boosting the green economic recovery.”