Small Modular Reactors

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have been seen as possibly rescuing the U.S. nuclear power industry.

B&W, NuScale and others have sought grants from the Department of Energy for developing SMRs. SMRs were a hot concept three years ago as possible alternatives for large nuclear power plants, but interest in SMRs in the United States has cooled.

It’s very likely that all existing nuclear reactors in the United States will be shut down by the end of this century, and many people thought SMRs could take their place. See U.S. Nuclear Demise Amid Increases Elsewhere.

Most U.S. reactors are rated around 1,000 MW, while SMRs would range in size from 25 MW to 300 MW.

SMRs have the advantage of being installed underground and located near where power is needed. They would also be built in factories in modular units to reduce construction time and help lower cost.

NuScale SMR
NuScale SMR

It now appears as though their cost, at $6,000 per KW, will be no better than the cost of building new large reactors, such as the four being built in Georgia and South Carolina.

A major advantage of SMRs may be their ability to obtain funding because their smaller size results in lower total cost for building each reactor.

Giorgio Locatelli, University of Lincoln, United Kingdom, has studied SMRs and concluded they are best suited for use in developing countries.

Smaller size suits the initially smaller demand for electricity in dispersed areas in developing countries, coupled with the ability to secure international funding with less money needed to build each SMR.

SMRs are being built in several countries.

Argentina is building a 25 MW SMR, about 60 miles north of Buenos Aires, at a cost of over $400 million, which equates to around $17,000 per KW, a huge sum, but justified because of its being the first unit, experimental in nature.

China is building two experimental SMRs. Russia is continuing to pursue SMRs, and was an early adopter. Russia has an SMR on a barge that can be moved to where power is needed, and also an SMR powering an ice breaker.

South Korea is probably the farthest ahead in developing SMRs for commercial use, and are nearly ready to export their design to other countries.

SMRs, of course, were first developed for use in submarines, so SMRs are actually not a new concept.

While nuclear power will likely grow in China, India and elsewhere, it’s very likely that growth of nuclear power in the United States will be nonexistent, with decline already setting in.

Environmental organizations have generated an irrational fear of radiation and have been against nuclear power of any kind, even though it emits zero CO2.

It makes little sense to be against nuclear power if global warming is an existential threat to mankind, but this contradiction persists. See Destruction of America’s Nuclear Industry.

This contradiction now manifests itself in Europe where cutting CO2 emissions has been institutionalized, and where Germany is eliminating nuclear power and France is beginning to cut its growth.

This contradiction has important implications.

Billions of people lack adequate access to electricity, such as these:

  • India: Average consumption 600 kilowatt-hours per year (kWh/year)
  • Indonesia: Average consumption 629 kWh/year
  • Central African Republic: Average consumption 29 kWh/year
  • Chad: Average consumption 8 kWh/year.

Energy access is defined by the International Energy Agency (IEA) as 250 kWh/year and 500 kWh/year, for rural and urban areas respectively.

For comparison, the average American consumes over 14,000 kWh/year.

If nuclear power, using MSRs, is not acceptable to environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, the alternative for supplying the world’s poor with electricity is coal, but these same groups also oppose coal.

Preventing billions of people from having access to electricity must be a crime against humanity.

In the United States, SMRs are not likely to be coming to a city near you, but could be an important factor for producing electricity in developing countries if it weren’t for those who oppose nuclear power.

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