Small nuclear reactors (SMRs)


in Economics, Science, The environment

Climate change definitely strengthens the case for nuclear power, but it is very hard to determine just how strong that case really is, particularly on economic grounds. Climate change does nothing to lessen the risks associated with accidents or nuclear proliferation, but it does represent some of the most significant risks associated with fossil fuel based forms of electricity generation.

Some of the major barriers to the deployment of new nuclear power plants are cost and long lead-in times. Construction can easily take a decade or more. One means by which both of those issues could potentially be addressed is through the use of small modular nuclear reactors. This is an approach being experimented with by a number of groups, including Russia’s state nuclear energy company (which is building a floating, towable nuclear power station) and firms like TerraPower, which has been enthusiastically endorsed by Bill Gates.

One of the most interesting possible uses for small nuclear reactors is as ‘drop-in’ replacements for the coal-burning parts of old power plants. Potentially, the heat source in a power plant could be switched from the combustion of coal to the fission of uranium, keeping most of the rest of the plant’s infrastructure in place. In particular, such converted plants could make use of existing transmission capacity.

I can’t say whether small nuclear reactors really are a more economical or appealing option overall, but it seems like a technology to watch as the world struggles to find ways to achieve carbon neutrality.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan January 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm

One thing relevant to market economies and to governments forced to take the short term view: the economist article linked suggests that a return on investment can be had much more quickly from a modular reactor than a traditional one. Even if the cost per unit of electricity is the same, the ability to recover an investment more quickly is highly relevant in our economies based more on speed than long term viability.

oleh January 10, 2011 at 12:29 am

A major reason for consideration of the smaller modular nuclear reactor is the importance on quickly turning the corner on the emission of greenhouse gases. Introduction of small nuclear reactors into coal generation facilities seems to be an earlier way to turning that corner.

Do you know of anywhere where this has occurred?

Milan January 11, 2011 at 7:39 pm

As far as I know, these small reactors are just in the planning stages and nobody has swapped one in as a fuel source in a power station formerly driven by fossil fuels.

oleh January 12, 2011 at 7:59 am

I wonder if the development of small nuclear reactors could become a project for Canada not unlike the CANDU reactor became in the 1950″s and 1960’s. On the other hand, perhaps safe and effective development and use of small nuclear reactors may be better done through international co-operation. In any even, in this world of miniaturization, I can see it being possible. Use of existing fossil fuel infrastructure connected with transmission lines seems a natural fit. Perhaps Ministries and Environment and Industry of Western countries including Canada, can work together in that regard.

I think one of the challenges is that, it seems that the Ministries of Industry and Environment hesitate to co-operate towards the goal of providing cleaner forms of energy.

Milan January 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm

There is no guarantee that small reactors would be more economical than larger ones (or than alternatives like renewable energy).

That being said, the urgency of dealing with climate change makes me think we should pursue a portfolio of approaches, to maximize the odds that some will work well in time.

. February 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Utilities split over small nuclear reactor economics

Washington (Platts)–18Feb2011/509 am EST/1009 GMT

Despite enthusiasm among nuclear reactor vendors and the Obama administration about the potential of small nuclear reactors, some utilities remain to be convinced of their economic viability.

Bill Johnson, CEO, chairman and president of Progress Energy said Thursday the company is unlikely to build small nuclear reactors in the next two decades, even though some vendors hope to make such units commercially available by 2020.

Johnson said it is “an intriguing thought” to build nuclear power plants “on a small scale, plug-in and play, [and] modular” fashion, but he added that “the timetable for that looks more like the 2030s, just given the pace of development.”

By then, he said most remaining coal plants will be large units, as Progress is retiring a third of its coal plants, mostly smaller ones, and replacing some of them with natural gas. Johnson spoke at a Platts conference on nuclear energy in Bethesda, Maryland.

“It’s going to come down to cost,” said Johnson. If a 100-MW plant will have to need the same size security and operating staff as a 1,000-MW unit, he said, “that’s going to make it difficult.”

Duke Energy has proposed acquiring Progress in an all-stock deal. Johnson would be CEO of the combined company, which would be the largest utility in the US.

. August 25, 2017 at 8:56 pm

Atomic power stations out at sea may be better than inland ones

Land-based power stations are bespoke structures, built by the techniques of civil engineering, in which each is slightly different and teams of specialists come and go according to the phase of the project. Marine stations, by contrast, could be mass-produced in factories using, if not the techniques of the assembly line, then at least those of the shipyard, with crews constantly employed.

But a slightly less ambitious approach to marine reactors—anchoring them on the surface rather than below it—is about to come to fruition in Russia. The first such, Akademik Lomonosov, is under construction at the Baltic Shipyard, in St Petersburg (see picture). According to Andrey Bukhovtsev of Rosatom, the agency that runs Russia’s civil nuclear programme, it is 96% complete. It will be launched later this year, towed to Murmansk, and thence transported to Pevek, a port in Russia’s Far East, where it will begin generating power in 2019.

Akademik Lomonosov consists of two 35MW reactors mounted on a barge. The reactors are modified versions of those used to power Taymyr-class icebreakers. As such, they are designed to be able to take quite a battering, so the storms of the Arctic Ocean should not trouble them. To add to their safety, the barge bearing them will be moored, about 200 metres from shore, behind a storm-and-tsunami-resistant breakwater.

Altogether, Akademik Lomonosov will cost $480m to build and install—far less than would have to be spent constructing an equivalent power station on land in such a remote and hostile environment. And, on the presumption that the whole thing will work, plans for a second, similar plant are being laid.

. August 13, 2018 at 4:06 pm

First partner announced for New Brunswick SMR project

The New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation yesterday announced Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC) as its first partner in a nuclear research cluster that will work on research and development of small modular reactor technology in the Canadian province.

Moltex partners in New Brunswick SMR project

UK-based Moltex Energy will build a demonstration SSR-W (Stable Salt Reactor – Wasteburner) at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant site in Canada under an agreement signed with the New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation and NB Power. Moltex becomes the second partner in a nuclear research cluster that will work on research and development of small modular reactor technology in the Canadian province.

. August 13, 2018 at 4:07 pm

“ARC is developing the ARC-100, a 100 MWe integrated sodium-cooled fast reactor with a metallic uranium alloy core. The company last year signed an agreement with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) to collaborate on development and licensing, and uses proprietary technology from GEH’s PRISM reactor. Both the PRISM and ARC-100 designs are based on the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype which operated at the USA’s Argonne National Laboratory from 1961, finally shutting down in 1994.”

. December 17, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Canadian provinces to collaborate on SMRs

The Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan have agreed to collaborate on the development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs) in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed yesterday in Toronto.

. December 17, 2019 at 1:05 pm

“Ontario-based Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in April 2018 launched an invitation for SMR project proponents to evaluate the construction and operation of a demonstration unit at one of its sites. Canada’s federal Department of Natural Resources in November 2018 issued a roadmap for the development of SMRs in the country, while Saskatchewan’s roadmap for growth, published in November, included goals to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation and to develop SMR technology with the possibility of a first operational SMR in the province by the middle of the 2030s. The government of New Brunswick is supporting the development of a nuclear research and development cluster in the province.”

. December 17, 2019 at 1:14 pm

California-based Oklo Inc has announced the launch of its Aurora energy plant which is powered by a small reactor with integrated solar panels. The company is preparing to submit its first licence application for the plant.

Oklo describes Aurora as an “advanced fission clean energy plant design developed to power communities with affordable, reliable, clean power.” The Aurora “powerhouse” includes a “fission battery” which uses metallic fuel. It can produce about 1.5 MW of electrical power and can also produce usable heat, the company says.

. December 17, 2019 at 1:19 pm

SMR design review enters final phases

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has completed the fourth phase of its review of the design certification application for NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR). With two final phases remaining, this marks the near-completion of the technical aspects of the review.

. December 17, 2019 at 1:19 pm

“NuScale’s SMR design features a fully fabricated power module based on pressurised light water reactor technology. Each module can generate up to 60 MWe, and the scalable design can be used in power plants of up to 12 individual modules. It is the first – and so far only – SMR to undergo a design certification review by the NRC. This is scheduled for completion by September 2020, and a 12-module NuScale plant at a site at the Idaho National Laboratory is planned for deployment in the mid-2020s. The project to bring the reactor into production has received support from a public-private partnership with the US Department of Energy as well as from Congress.”

. December 17, 2019 at 1:20 pm

US and Canadian regulators select SMR for joint review

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have selected Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) for their first joint technical review of an advanced, non-light water nuclear reactor technology, Terrestrial announced yesterday.

New Brunswick affirms support for Point Lepreau SMR

New Brunswick Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland yesterday affirmed the province’s support for the siting of ARC Nuclear Canada Inc’s ARC-100 small modular reactor (SMR) at the existing Point Lepreau nuclear power plant.

. February 4, 2020 at 12:22 pm
. February 4, 2020 at 12:48 pm

GE Hitachi initiates US licensing of BWRX-300

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) has officially started the regulatory licensing process for its BWRX-300 reactor design. On 30 December, the company submitted the first licensing topical report for the small modular reactor to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The company expects such reports to serve as a foundation for the development of a Preliminary Safety Analysis Report that could potentially be submitted to the NRC by a utility customer.

. February 4, 2020 at 12:49 pm

Finnish regulator prepares for SMR licensing

Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (Stuk) has published a report discussing the safety assessment and licensing of small modular reactors (SMRs). The regulator says it is preparing for the licensing of such reactors “due to the national and international interest in them.”

. February 22, 2020 at 7:15 pm

First U.S. Small Modular Boiling Water Reactor Under Development

GE Hitachi (GEH) is expanding its nuclear portfolio by developing a smaller and simplified version of its licensed Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR). The BWRX-300 design is the ONLY boiling water small modular reactor (SMR) under development in the United States. It recently began the licensing process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and is one of a handful of new reactor technologies that could be on the market within the decade.

. February 28, 2020 at 4:02 pm

Oklo wins access to used fuel for Aurora SMR

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is to provide Oklo Inc with access to recovered material from used nuclear fuel to develop and demonstrate the Oklo Aurora – a micro-reactor that can be used in remote or off-grid locations to generate power. Jacob DeWitte, Oklo co-founder and CEO, said the award paves the way for an important demonstration of the first Aurora plant, as well as the “ability of advanced reactors to convert used nuclear fuel, that would otherwise be treated for disposal, into clean energy”.

. March 10, 2020 at 5:00 pm

GE Hitachi submits SMR design for Canadian review

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) has made its first submittals to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) for the vendor design review (VDR) of its BWRX-300 small modular reactor. The submittals are for the combined first two phases of the three-phase process and address eight of the 19 VDR focus areas.

. March 10, 2020 at 5:00 pm

The countries building miniature nuclear reactors

Small-scale nuclear reactors are starting to be developed around the world. Proponents say they are a safer and cheaper form of nuclear power. But will they keep up with renewables?

. March 30, 2020 at 12:28 pm

The idea of small reactors is as old as nuclear power itself. In July 1951, five months before a reactor in Idaho became the first in the world to produce usable electricity through fission, America began building USS Nautilus, a nuclear-powered submarine. In the 1960s and 1970s small reactors powered bases in Alaska and Greenland, a radar facility in Wyoming, a research station in Antarctica and—from a cargo ship—the Panama Canal Zone. America still uses nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft-carriers. But land-based mini-reactors proved unreliable and expensive and have fallen out of favour.

Interest has been revived by recent wars, in which American forces proved extraordinarily hungry for energy. Early in the Iraq war, fuel made up over a third of the tonnage transported to the region. Between 2001 and 2010, over half of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan occurred during land-transport missions, many involving fuel deliveries to remote outposts. Portable reactors could substitute for unreliable power grids or the generators that often take their place.

America’s armed forces use about 30 terawatt-hours of electricity per year—about the same as Ireland—and more than 35m litres of fuel per day. In 2016 a report by the Defence Science Board, a committee of experts, concluded that demand would surge as new power-hungry weapons, like lasers and rail-guns, come to maturity. Vehicles are also moving away from fossil fuels: America expects to have all-electric brigades within the decade. A report by the army in 2018 said that Holos, a prototype mobile nuclear reactor, would be 62% cheaper than using liquid fuel.

. April 3, 2020 at 4:24 pm

IAEA launches project to examine economics of SMRs

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is launching a three-year Coordinated Research Project focused on the economics of small modular reactors (SMRs). The project will provide Member States with an economic appraisal framework for the development and deployment of such reactors.

. May 9, 2020 at 8:23 pm

Holtec SMR to use commercially-available Framatome fuel

Holtec International has selected Framatome to supply nuclear fuel for its SMR-160 small modular reactor (SMR). The companies have entered into an agreement to enable completion of all necessary engineering to fuel the SMR-160 with Framatome’s commercially available and proven 17×17 GAIA fuel assembly.

. May 22, 2020 at 5:20 pm

ORNL developing 3D-printed nuclear microreactor

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are refining their design of a 3D-printed nuclear reactor core, scaling up the additive manufacturing process necessary to build it, and developing methods to confirm the consistency and reliability of its printed components.

. July 3, 2020 at 1:52 pm

Secretariat set up for Saskatchewan SMR deployment

The government of Saskatchewan has announced the establishment of an office to help in the planning and development of small modular reactors (SMR) in the Canadian province. It said the new office will “coordinate nuclear policy and programme work” within the Climate Change and Adaptation Division in the Ministry of Environment.

. August 2, 2020 at 5:11 pm

Smaller Nuclear Plants May Come With Less Stringent Safety Rules

The NRC is considering whether to shrink emergency planning and evacuation zones around these newer reactors — from a 10-mile radius to, in some cases, the boundary of the plant site.

Nuclear energy critics say that would be a mistake.

“When you’re talking about a reactor that’s never been built or operated, you have to take with a big grain of salt the claims that it’s actually safer or more secure,” says Edwin Lyman at Union of Concerned Scientists.

He says the industry also wants to use weaker reactor containment shells, and in some cases they don’t want to have to keep an operator at the site.

Lyman thinks companies should build plants under current rules first. “You have to work out the kinks of these new plants,” he says. “And then over time you might be able to adjust your requirements accordingly. But you don’t do that at the get-go.”

. August 8, 2020 at 6:26 pm

Alberta to join other provinces in exploring small nuclear technology | Calgary Herald

. September 1, 2020 at 8:44 pm
. September 1, 2020 at 9:44 pm

SMR-160 completes first phase of Canadian review

Holtec International’s SMR-160 reactor has completed the first phase of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)’s vendor design review (VDR) process. The company plans to begin the second phase of the voluntary pre-licensing review in the near future.

. September 16, 2020 at 2:05 pm

Can Distributed Nuclear Power Address Energy Resilience and Energy Poverty?

Microreactors, or micro-modular reactors (μMRs), are a radical departure from conventional nuclear designs. Derived from reactor designs originally investigated in the 1950s and 1960s, microreactor designs feature innovations inspired by the drawbacks of conventional designs. While a conventional reactor is 1 GW-electric or larger and a small modular reactor (SMR) is 50–300 MW-electric, μMRs are usually 10 MW-electric or less. This is equivalent in power output to 1–5 wind turbines or a small solar farm. At the extreme end, the Department of Energy and NASA are developing Kilopower for space exploration, with a size as low as 1 kW-electric.

New fuel types, fission cycles, passive safety features, and other operational changes could enable these ultra-small reactors to improve safety. Their small sizes decrease the heat to surface area of the reactor, allowing for passive cooling instead of the complex active cooling required for LWRs. By using new fuel forms and requiring vastly smaller amounts of uranium, off-site risks from a microreactor accident are limited. The designs used by small reactors are often termed as featuring inherent or passive safety.

Microreactor proposals may also feature improvements in fuel cycles, reduced water consumption, or less frequent refueling outages. In terms of energy supply, microreactors are likely to be especially resilient. Conventional nuclear reactors are already among the most resilient sources of energy supply.7 However, they face water supply limitations, a concern due to climate change. As microreactors use different processes, they generally do not require significant amounts of water. Further, microreactor designs often incorporate high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) or other features that could reduce refueling frequency and costs.

Many vendors are now pursuing these designs. A report by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) identifies at least 13 vendors in the United States, including traditional vendors like Westinghouse and BWXT.8 Notably, the existence of so many vendors is unusual for the nuclear industry, offering the promise of design and business model diversity necessary for financial innovation. An emerging industry participant, Oklo, just submitted a Combined License to the NRC, the first non-LWR design to do so. Initial commercial deployment of microreactors is possible by the mid-2020s.

. October 6, 2020 at 11:00 pm

OPG advances towards SMR deployment

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has today announced plans to pave the way for the deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs) by advancing engineering and design work with three developers of grid-scale SMRs: GE Hitachi (GEH), Terrestrial Energy and X-energy. At the same time, GEH has entered into MoUs with five Canadian companies to set up a supply chain for its SMR.

Milan October 16, 2020 at 2:38 am

Federal government invests in small nuclear reactors to help it meet net-zero 2050 target

. November 8, 2020 at 11:23 pm

First major modular nuclear project having difficulty retaining backers

The complicated finances of the first major test of small modular nuclear reactors

. November 9, 2020 at 7:19 pm

Assessing the viability of small modular nuclear reactors

. November 12, 2020 at 5:54 pm
. November 12, 2020 at 9:20 pm

Can small nuclear reactors help Canada reach its net-zero 2050 goals? Some experts are skeptical

‘Nuclear power is like fighting world hunger with caviar,’ says researcher Benjamin Sovacool

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