Small Modular Nuclear Reactors – the future is becoming clearer

I previously blogged about SMR’s in January 2016 and since that time, the development of this technology has been impressive as it moves towards commercial use. A recent report by Forbes1 confirmed that NuScale Power2 is on track to build the first small modular nuclear reactor in America faster than expected.

Two weeks ago, NuScale’s small modular nuclear reactor design completed the Phase 1 review of its design certification application (DCA) by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That’s a huge deal because Phase 1 is the most intensive phase of the review, taking more hours and effort than the remaining five phases combined. The NRC’s review of NuScale’s DCA only began in March 2017 and the NRC’s final report approving the design is expected to be complete by September 2020. NuScale is the first and only SMR to ever undergo an NRC review. After sailing through Phase 1 so quickly, the company really is on track to build the first SMR in America within the next few years.

NuScale’s reactor is also America’s best chance to compete in the global SMR market as it gets started and puts the U.S. on a path to beat foreign competitors like Argentina, China, Russia and South Korea who are developing their own SMR designs. Conservative estimates predict between 55 and 75 GW of electricity will come from operating SMRs around the world by 2035, the equivalent of more than 1,000 NuScale Power Modules, and will bring the market up towards a trillion dollars.

SMR developers expect modular designs and construction processes will generate economies of series and open up multiple supply opportunities. NuScale has estimated its first plant will cost just under $3 billion to build, giving an overnight capital cost of $5,078/kWe.

Mr Conca states “But the real power of SMRs are the fact that they can’t melt down. This is a big deal. It means the reactor just won’t melt down or otherwise cause any of the nightmares people think about when imagining the worse for nuclear power.

It just shuts down and cools off. No humans or computers are needed to intervene, no AC or DC power, no pumps, and no additional water for cooling.”

The report further states that “A couple of additional features are: 1) no one can hack this reactor and 2) refuelling of this reactor does not require the nuclear plant to shut down.

The components of the NuScale reactor can all be manufactured in a factory prior to shipping and assembly at the site, removing a major cost issue with building new nuclear plants. Traditional nuclear reactors are between about 600 and 1,200 MW, but these small power modules are about 50 MW each and 12 of them can be put together to make a power plant up to 600 MW - a 12-pack.

These modules use standard 17x17 PWR fuel assemblies, also making them cost-effective, at only half the height, with an average U-235 enrichment of 3.8%. A single NuScale nuclear power module is 76-feet tall and 15-feet in diameter, and would sit in a plant covering less than a tenth of a square mile or about 60 acres.

In comparison, it takes at least 130,000 acres, or about 200 square miles, of wind farms to produce the same amount of energy as one NuScale 12-pack is designed to.

These innovative designs bring the total life-cycle cost to produce electricity with this SMR to below that of most other energy sources, just slightly above hydro and natural gas. This SMR can also be constructed in about half the time of traditional nuclear plants.

In summary SNR’s:

  • Significantly reduced environmental and health risks

  • Reduces capital expenditure

  • Reduces complexity

  • Less development time required

  • Lower power costs

  • Reduced land area required to build

The future for nuclear power is looking brighter thanks to the efforts of NuScale and other developers of SNR’s.

1. James Conca, Contributor


2. NuScale is headquartered in Portland, Oregon and has offices in Corvallis, Or, Rockville, Md, Charlotte, N.C., Richland, WA, Arlington, Va., and London, UK.

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