In service

Nuclear technology

Nuclear reactor plants have a long lifetime. The Royal Navy’s latest submarine reactors, designed and built by Rolls-Royce, will last the vessels’ full operational life without the need for refuelling. This means they require a number of key support activities throughout their time in service - from delivery to final disposal.

Among the key services provided are:

  • In-situ repair and maintenance of reactor plant.
  • Transport of nuclear fuel.
  • Design and supply of high-integrity fuel handling equipment.
  • Dynamic stress analysis.

We also undertake rig design and operation to test components and verify plant designs. We develop, qualify and implement a broad range of inspection and repair capabilities that often require remote operation. We also manage an in-service rapid response centre supporting naval reactors.

Design & methods

Health and safety is paramount in the design of a nuclear plant. All work undertaken complies with appropriate national and international standards, and the design review process ensures products and services are safe to manufacture, operate and maintain.

Collaboration plays a major part in our design expertise: our industrial and academic partners include:

Latest 3D computer modelling, dynamic stress analysis and validated low-frequency noise and vibration methods are among key design tools. Ultrasonic inspection techniques include development of state-of-the-art phased array and full matrix capture.


A deep knowledge of materials and their behaviour during reactor operation enables us to give advice on material selection for optimum performance and endurance in harsh environments.

In order to establish performance and potential concerns, metallurgists gather and interpret materials data. The collection of data needs to take account of the radioactive environment and often demands remote techniques such as manipulation and surface replication, allowing operators to remain remote from radioactive sources and to inspect otherwise inaccessible areas.

Niche materials sampling techniques have been developed to allow access to awkward positions, applying low forces and leaving low-stress features in the parent material to avoid compromising plant integrity.  

Research into world leading non-destructive examination techniques provides customers with valuable ways of collecting data in order to enhance safety cases. Specialist facilities enable materials sampling in both normal and extreme conditions, such as accelerated corrosion testing.

Manufacturing engineering

Quick service solutions help customers to meet their operational targets, so it is important to minimise the time between identifying a problem and providing a solution. Design engineers maintain strong links with manufacturing engineers to ensure that the new design solution is optimised for manufacture.

The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC), of which Rolls-Royce is a founding member, ensures manufacturing technology deployed in our factories is at the cutting edge. The NAMRC investigates the unique challenges for nuclear manufacturing, including;

  • the continuous modernisation of manufacturing processes and techniques
  • skilled workforce training and development
  • supply chain accreditation.

Investments include a rapid manufacturing capability – direct metal laser sintering – which allows the manufacture of prototypes and production items in very short timescales. It is also useful in making multiple variants for component test programmes.

Investment is also made into technology development for manufacturing and machining processes. For example, the ‘miniature machining project’ aims to provide a compact portable machining facility which can also be used on in-service plants.

Electrical & Control systems

Machines designed for inspection, maintenance and repair often have dedicated and complex software control systems. This calls for high-integrity, bespoke solutions in order to ensure the protection of our customers’ nuclear plant assets.

System reliability is fundamental and interlocks are often embedded into the design, where high integrity manipulation handling is needed to meet safety case demands.

To keep up with latest standards, testing laboratories are frequently updated. Examples of such upgrades are the introduction of a central control system to allow the operation of multiple test-rigs, which can be monitored remotely from any hazards. Also touch-screen technology and instrumentation to provide a more effective human interface as well as a more compact and focused working area.

Environmental impact

Environmental concerns are at the forefront of all design activities: material selection and processes aim to minimise environmental impact and the ease of dismantling and recycling and manufacturing techniques are also considered at this stage.

Nuclear applications present the additional challenge of radiation. All activities are conducted in accordance with relevant legislation and approval authorities. Specialist skills in design, analysis and physics, accumulated over 40 years, have led to the deployment of ultra-safe systems for handling and transporting nuclear materials.

The ALARP (as low as reasonably practicable) approach is adopted for all activities, resulting in the delivery of solutions that minimise radiation to the lowest possible levels, ensuring that all activities remain well below agreed environmental limits for both operators and the general public.


Comprehensive verification of design solutions ahead of service operation is fundamental. An engineering laboratory at our Derby premises is the hub of testing and verification rigs for all Rolls-Royce nuclear engineering activities.

Teams of designers and specialist operators maintain a testing capability around the clock to deliver information as quickly as possible. This facility can handle everything up to large reactor components. It also can replicate environmental extremes in order to conduct aggressive and accelerated testing in support of design development, data generation and production verification.

Sophisticated workshop facilities are available for development testing of repair techniques, often utilising representative mock-ups. As well as being home to the development of effective and efficient processes, it is also the perfect environment for demonstrations to customers and regulators ahead of live use on the reactor plant.

» Email
Mobile phone icon

» Sign up to the RNS on your handheld device or mobile phone

Alert service icon

» Sign up to get the latest news
delivered to your inbox

Contact us icon

Contact us