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Written by James Scott
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Founded by international energy and infrastructure technology advisor, James Scott, the Embassy Row Project strives to unify the next generation of leaders & initiatives that are hyper-focused on instigating positive change on issues that impact the environment, human rights, technological innovation, and international trade collaborations that proliferate diversity, and food security, and dignified employment with a livable wage.
Small Modular Reactors: Technology Overview
In nuclear electric power generation, small-sized reactors have an equivalent electric power of fewer than 300 MWe. In comparison, medium-sized reactors have an equivalent electric power of between 300 and 700 MWe. These two categories are conflated as Small Modular Reactors (SMR). Ingersoll defines these based on technology: “reactor designs that are deliberately small, i.e., designs that do not scale to large sizes but rather capitalize on their smallness to achieve specific performance characteristics.” (Ingersoll, D.T., 2009. Deliberately small reactors and the second nuclear era. Progress in nuclear energy, 51(4-5), pp.589-603.) This highlights that the SMRs use modern technology to reverse the trend in nuclear reactor design that bigger is better. The capital costs per unit of power of a nuclear reactor decrease with increasing size, making the size of a nuclear reactor an important factor in the economic calculation.
Today’s SMRs have significantly different designs and characteristics than their larger cousins: the SMRs are designed to operate with longer fuel cycles of up to 8 years and with primary components with very high reliability (Carelli, 2004). This reduces the need for regular maintenance shutdowns, decreases the incidence of inspections and repairs, and extends the maintenance period from 18 to 240 months (Table 1, Appendix). It is estimated that this reduces the share of operation and maintenance costs to 17-41% of the total costs in the SMRs, compared to 45-58% in large nuclear reactors (OECD/NEA, 2011.). Finally, the decommissioning of SMRs should be considerably easier due to their modular construction, where the decommissioned modules can be replaced and disassembled (Lokhov, 2013.).
In addition, SMRs provide an extremely high level of security by design. There are multiple levels of defense for accident mitigation and elimination “by design” of accident initiators or reduction of their consequences and probability. This “safety-by-design” approach provides increased safety and reliability compared to large-scale nuclear reactors.