Multi-Million Dollar US Investment Programme Announced for UK Steel Construction System

Steel Bricks™, the UK-based modular steel construction system, has been included in a multi-million dollar funding programme to be delivered by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), aimed at making advanced nuclear construction faster and more affordable.

The U.S. DOE’s National Reactor Innovation Centre is to invest $5.8 million to develop innovative construction technologies to help reduce the cost of new nuclear builds by more than 10 per-cent – as well as significantly speeding up the pace of their development.

Developed by Modular Walling Systems (MWS), based in Renfrewshire, Scotland, the Steel Bricks™ system is fabricated in the UK by leading structural steelworks manufacturer Caunton Engineering. Hailed as a second-generation steel composite structure, the unique proprietary system has been described as ‘high-tech LEGO pieces’ which could significantly reduce the amount of construction labour required to build nuclear reactors on site.

The Steel Bricks™ system is one of three development projects that will be funded by the U.S. DOE’s Advanced Construction Technology (ACT) initiative.  GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, the world-leading provider of nuclear power plant technology, will lead a team to explore promising technologies from other industries and to ensure they are tested to meet the exacting requirements of the nuclear industry.  Steel Bricks™ was recently identified a major component for GE Hitachi’s next generation BWRX-300 Small Modular Reactor (SMR) – targeting a market estimated to be worth US $1.2 trillion globally.

For Modular Walling Systems, the U.S. DOE’s funding endorsement of Steel Bricks™ places the system at the forefront of advanced global nuclear design – especially for the potentially lucrative Small Modular Reactor market. Dr. Stewart Gallocher, the company’s founding director, said: “The Steel Bricks™ system is a ‘first of a kind’ concept in the fast-emerging world of steel composite construction. It provides not just the walls and suspended floors or roofs in steel composite, but most importantly a basemat. This takes away the need for conventional foundations, eliminating the traditional Achilles Heel of this form of construction which are the weak points of the basemat to wall connection.

“Many attempts have been made during the past 25 years to devise simple, safe and rapid fabrication methods to internally connect steel faceplates. But most have lacked commercial application due to being too expensive and labour intensive.  We can now successfully deliver a solution which is technologically proficient whilst providing significant cost and time saving benefits.

He added: “This could mark a major leap forward for advanced nuclear construction in its global drive to become a cost-effective, green and sustainable alternative to carbon-based energy provision.”

The U.S. DOE funding will allow for the development of the Steel Bricks™ system and its application for advanced Small Modular Reactor design. Full size specimens will be fabricated in the UK by Caunton Engineering, one of the UK’s leading structural steelworks manufacturers, at the company’s manufacturing headquarter in Nottingham prior to testing conducted by Purdue University in Indiana, USA, later this year.

Welcoming the U.S. DOE funding announcement, Dr. Kathryn Huff, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the said: “Construction costs and schedule overruns have plagued new nuclear builds for decades. By leveraging advanced construction technologies, we can drive down costs and speed the pace of advanced nuclear deployment – much needed steps to tackle global climate change and meet President Biden’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

As well as Steel Bricks™, the other projects delivered as part of the U.S. DOE’s ACT initiative include vertical shaft construction and advanced monitoring coupled with digital twin technology.  The project’s initial phase will focus on technology and development, and preparation for a small-scale demonstration, aiming to deliver completed projects within the next three years.