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Governments Look to Expand Nuclear Power Through SMRs

POWER Magazine | News & Technology for the Global Energy Industry | By Darrell Proctor


Advancements in small modular reactor (SMR) technology are being supported by government investment within several countries, including the U.S. and the UK, as SMRs are increasingly seen as a way to take advantage of zero-emission nuclear power without the expense of building new, large nuclear power plants. Recent investments have looked at how parts for SMRs could be fabricated and then assembled at their destination, another way to reduce construction and overall project costs.


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a recent report said more than 70 SMR designs and concepts exist worldwide. SMRs also are being touted for their ability to work as a multi-module plant, combining modules for more power output.


A recent report prepared for the Dutch government, part of the Netherlands’ effort to explore nuclear power as part of its energy mix, said SMRs carry “a promise for great simplification and related cost reduction while applying industrial manufacturing and construction technologies at factory rather than on site.” Eric Wiebes, the Netherlands’ Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate, in a letter to that country’s parliament wrote, “Various studies show that nuclear energy can be a cost-effective opportunity and is a positive business case. SMRs can become an attractive alternative to larger nuclear reactors. Through serial production in factories, the shorter construction time and the modular design makes financing easier.”


SMRs could provide a way for countries to supplement their power generation...

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“We see three key opportunities for nuclear energy to contribute toward otherwise unsolved decarbonization challenges,” said Kirsty Gogan, managing partner of LucidCatalyst, an international consultancy offering thought leadership, strategy development, and techno-economic expertise focused on zero-carbon technology options for large-scale, market-based decarbonization of the global economy. Gogan told POWER, “Firstly, flexible advanced reactors being rapidly commercialized today can provide economical and clean dispatchable generation that will complement and enable high penetrations of variable renewables into future electricity grids. Secondly, these advanced clean heat sources can re-power coal plants, enabling continued operation of the plant and associated infrastructure, including transmission, without emissions.”


Gogan, who also is a co-founder of Energy for Humanity [and TerraPraxis], an international community of pro-nuclear environmental activists based in the UK and Switzerland, also said, “Thirdly, beyond electricity, new advanced heat sources have potential to supply heat to homes, businesses, and industrial processes; produce hydrogen and synthetic fuels to support cleaner transport, including the hard-to-abate sectors of aviation and shipping; desalinate and purify seawater in regions suffering water scarcity; support access to modern energy services in remote and developing communities; and offer industry an emissions-free source of high-temperature heat, all in support of clean energy transitions that can benefit society and lift up living standards around the world.”


Dewan agreed that the use of SMRs to provide power for a range of applications, as noted by Gogan, is a large part of the technology’s appeal. “You have economies of scale that kick in, and it becomes easier to use SMRs in situations where it’s useful to build additional reactor units, and in the ways that you can improve them,” Dewan said. “You can use [early experience] to potentially tweak the design, in ways you couldn’t with a large reactor unit. In terms of uses for small modular reactors, it’s very scalable, whether you’re powering a data center, or powering a small city. Another use that’s interesting is using the heat, for hydrogen production, or industrial processes like chemical processing, or food processing, [and] food and beverage manufacturing.”

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Both the UK and Canada are looking at a common regulatory approach to technical reviews that would support SMR deployment. UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation, and the CNSC, in October announced they would cooperate on such an approach, after both countries said they would take a lead global role in SMR and advanced modular reactor (AMR) technology with the signing of a Collaboration on Advanced Nuclear Technologies Action Plan in March 2020. “Political support is vital to advance these opportunities,” said Gogan, “so we welcome the recent commitments from PM Boris Johnson, as well as progress in the United States, Canada and many other countries that recognize the important contribution that nuclear technologies could make towards meeting our climate and prosperity goals.”


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