I recently attended Mines and Money London and spent some time with other uranium explorers and producers from around the world. Over a uranium-focused roundtable, SMRs got a lot of time and there were some strong views that this is the future for nuclear power.
“What are SMRs?,” you say. Commonly the acronym for Small Modular Reactors and used to describe the “pint sized” nuclear reactors that are being developed and expected to be in commercial production within the next decade. In contrast, the majority of current plants and those under development are at least 1,000-megawatt reactors and SMRs are expected to be around 50-megawatt but can be as large as 200-megawatt’s.
So what’s the attraction in something that produces only 5%-10% of the power that is now conventional. The first reason is that as nations try and secure new baseload capacity, the larger reactors are proving to be expensive and time-consuming. The other issue is that gas-fired stations are just not profitable and renewables are not economic when considered as base load providers. Naturally, fossil fuels are being phased out (where possible) and not part of a sustainable global solution. SMRs are able to deployed in quantities of as many as 12 at a single power plant. That would give utilities the flexibility to spread capital spending over many years as they expand a plant. By contrast, there is a spend commitment of $36 billion to build a 3.2-gigawatt nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in south-west England by 2025, the first atomic station in Britain since 1995!
The National Nuclear Laboratory in the UK are predicting that the global market for SMRs may total as much as $800 billion by 2035. This should be sufficient for the necessary R&D to be spent and for small plants to become a reality. Personally, I like the idea that these SMRs may assist Africa and in particular, developing countries, to significantly increase the amount and reliability of electricity to millions who have little or no access. With countries like Namibia being rich in uranium, it would also be cost effective with a greater chance of funding.
With market conditions for mining companies, in general, and uranium companies, in particular, unfavorable, I support any initiative that will lead to the development of this smart hi-tech nuclear energy that will further assist with addressing climate change issues.
There are concerns about SMRs, however, and a paper released by the Union of Concerned Scientists outlines reasons why they are against development. This can be downloaded from http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/nuclear-power-technology/small-modular-reactors. The safety concerns and conclusions appear to be more against all nuclear power rather than SMEs but, hey, I’m on the other side of the fence!
Let me know if you feel strongly one way or the other.
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