In the six decades since the Shippingport Atomic Power Station near Pittsburgh began operating as the nation’s first commercial nuclear reactor, the industry has built ever larger plants to improve the economies of scale. A typical commercial reactor now produces about 20 times as much electricity as the first Shippingport unit in 1958. So it may seem counterintuitive that the industry sees the future not in building gargantuan plants, but in small modular reactors, or SMRs — factory-built units with fewer parts, designed to be installed underground with passive cooling systems that the industry says are “inherently safe.” “There’s a good case for SMRs in a lot of markets, both in the U.S. and throughout the world,” said John Kotek, vice president of policy development and public affairs for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group. But not everyone is sold on their promise. “SMRs seem to be a fad, as far as I can tell,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who wrote a widely cited paper questioning the economics of small reactors. “There’s very really little substance to its motivation, other than the private sector can’t afford ordinary sized reactors.” Despite the climate benefits, many environmental advocates fiercely oppose any expansion of nuclear energy’s role, including skeptics who cite safety issues exposed by the accident 40 years ago this month at Three Mile Island Unit 2 in Pennsylvania, which put the brakes on the industry’s growth in the 1980s. In the last 20 years, just one new commercial plant has begun operations in the United States, and only two are currently under construction. Lyman said the industry would need to produce “hundreds or thousands” of units in order to cut costs and reduce the need for government assistance. But NuScale says it will need to produce only 12 reactor units, and build three power plants, to develop the experience needed to bring down costs. “Clearly, we’re not talking about hundreds, and clearly not thousands,” said Mundy. “There’s nothing complicated about its construction, compared to large gigawatt plants.”

The Inquirer 16th March 2019 read more »

Posted: 17 March 2019


An obituary for small modular reactors. The nuclear industry is heavily promoting the idea of building small modular reactors (SMRs), with near-zero prospects for new large power reactors in many countries. These reactors would have a capacity of under 300 megawatts (MW), whereas large reactors typically have a capacity of 1,000 MW. Construction at reactor sites would be replaced with standardised factory production of reactor components then installation at the reactor site, thereby driving down costs and improving quality control. The emphasis in this article is on the questionable economics of SMRs, but a couple of striking features of the SMR universe should be mentioned. First, the enthusiasm for SMRs has little to do with climate-friendly environmentalism. About half of the SMRs under construction (Russia’s floating power plant, Russia’s RITM-200 icebreaker ships, and China’s ACPR50S demonstration reactor) are designed to facilitate access to fossil fuel resources in the Arctic, the South China Sea and elsewhere. A second striking feature of the SMR universe is that it is deeply interconnected with militarism.

Ecologist 11th March 2019 read more »

WISE International 7th March 2019 read more »

At the Vogtle power plant near Augusta, Georgia, the first new large nuclear reactors to start construction in the US for more than 30 years are taking shape. Units 3 and 4 are scheduled to start up in November 2021 and November 2022, respectively, and are intended to keep the lights on in Georgia and Florida, with no carbon emissions, into the 2080s and possibly beyond. The project has been so fraught with difficulties, delays and cost overruns, however, that it seems likely to be another 30 years at least before anyone tries building another such plant in the US again. Nuclear power appeals as being a source of reliable electricity without causing greenhouse gas emissions. But new reactors are so expensive that in many countries they are unable to compete with cheap gas and coal or renewable energy sources. If new nuclear plants are to play any significant role in curbing future emissions in developed economies, their costs are going to have to come down a long way. That is the argument underlying the recent upsurge in interest in new nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors (SMRs). When Fatih Birol, executive-director of the International Energy Agency, gave evidence to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in February, he suggested there were two priorities facing the US nuclear industry. In the short term, it needs to find ways to keep open plants that are running well but faced economic challenges, he said. In the longer term, developing new reactor technologies “will be of crucial importance to have the US leadership continuing in the nuclear domain”. In the broadest terms, new nuclear technologies divide into two varieties: first, there are those that use water for temperature regulation and enriched uranium fuel, like the standard reactors in use today; second, there are advanced reactors that can have a wider range of coolants including molten sodium or salt and use a wider range of fuels including depleted uranium. A recent report on breakthrough technologies from the Energy Futures Initiative, a think-tank, and IHS Markit, a research company, suggests that the light water SMRs could start coming into service in 2020-35 while the advanced reactors might be in operation from 2025-30. Backers of both technologies advocate building new reactors in factories rather than entirely on location to improve productivity and reduce costs.

FT 12th March 2019 read more »

Posted: 12 March 2019


Given carbon emissions failure, should Ireland look at small nuclear reactors? Some leading nuclear countries, including Canada and the US, have SMR projects working their way through the planning process. Ireland is struggling to reduce its greenhouse gases even while making great strides in harnessing wind power, so is there a case for looking at developing carbon-free nuclear power here, especially small nuclear reactors? It’s a confusing picture. Ireland is a world leader in tapping its renewable wind resource, with about one quarter of our electricity now wind-generated, but it lies next to bottom of the EU table when it comes to carbon emissions. Ireland’s energy policy is focused on developing better ways to harness clean power from renewables and biomass. Yet this approach is failing to produce enough energy to satisfy the nation’s power needs or electricity “baseload”; the daily minimum demand for power from the national grid. The storage of energy generated from renewables is a problem engineers have yet to solve. So when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine the only way to ensure baseload demand is met is to bridge the power gap by burning fossil fuels in dirty, carbon-emitting plants like Moneypoint in Co Clare (using coal), Edenderry in Co Offaly (peat) and Huntstown in Co Dublin (gas). “While renewables are useful – especially wind in Ireland and solar in brighter countries – they cannot on their own solve the growing energy and emissions problems,” says Denis Duff, co-founder of voluntary pro-nuclear body Better Environment with Nuclear Energy. “Small, modular reactors are possibly the most important response by the energy and science communities to humanity’s increasing difficulty in guaranteeing a supply of clean affordable energy for the planet.” The claims that SMRs are safer than existing nuclear reactors, that the waste they produce is not a major safety concern, and that they can produce plenty of reliable, cheap electricity is challenged by some. “There is no evidence that SMRs as a class will be safer than larger reactors,” says Dr Edwin Lyman, a physicist and spokeswoman for the Washington DC-based Union of Concerned Scientists. “SMR designers, in an attempt to cut capital and operating costs, are proposing exemptions from safety and security standards that could render SMRs even more of a threat to public health, safety and the environment than larger reactors,” Lyman says.

Irish Times 7th March 2019 read more »

Posted: 9 March 2019


The nuclear industry’s fierce fight for survival is leading several countries to develop smaller, off-the-shelf nuclear reactors. As costs escalate, several countries with nuclear ambitions have abandoned plans for large reactors. But the industry is adapting, seeking to reinvent itself by mass-producing small off-the-shelf nuclear reactors instead. If nuclear enthusiasts are to be believed, the world is on the edge of a building boom for a range of new reactors designed to produce electricity, district heating and desalination. The idea of small modular reactors (SMRs), as they are known, has been around for years. But an in-depth analysis, a so-called White Paper produced by a UK newsletter, the Nuclear Energy Insider, says the technology is reaching take-off point in Argentina, Canada, China, Russia, the US and the UK. Unlike their big cousins, which are falling out of favour because they take more than a decade to build and often have massive cost overruns, the concept behind small modular reactors is that the parts can be factory-made in large numbers to be cheaply and rapidly assembled on site. So far this is only theory; currently the industry is at the prototype stage.

Climate News Network 5th March 2019 read more »

Posted: 5 March 2019

Rolls Royce

Rolls-Royce is selling the vast bulk of its civil nuclear business, dealing a new blow to efforts to rebuild Britain’s atomic power industry. The FTSE 100 engineer has hired consultants from KPMG to find a buyer for the nuclear division, which could fetch up to £200m. The move marks the end of an era for the country’s premier engineering company, which has more than 50 years’ expertise in nuclear power but is being slimmed down by chief executive Warren East to focus on jet engines, power generators and defence. The nuclear business makes instruments and controls to monitor radiation and temperature and prevent reactors overheating. Its equipment is installed in more than 200 reactors around the world, and it has a big presence in France, where it works with the state-backed engineering firm Orano. Rolls-Royce’s retreat from civil nuclear work reflects the industry’s broader problems. Plans for new power stations in Britain have been left in tatters after the Japanese industrial giants Toshiba and Hitachi withdrew, leaving just Hinkley Point in Somerset under way. The Japanese exit has triggered an inquiry by the Commons business committee into future investment in energy infrastructure. The sale will not include Rolls-Royce’s work on Hinkley Point, which is ringfenced, the company’s project to develop small reactors or its nuclear submarine reactor business. Rolls-Royce has been in talks to install its equipment at a plant in Essex planned by China General Nuclear, to help assuage security concerns. This work is likely to be transferred to the new owner. Sources said the business, which has more than 1,000 staff, was likely to go to a trade buyer. A Chinese deal is unlikely.

Times 3rd March 2019 read more »

Posted: 3 March 2019


Trudy Harrison: It has been an eventful start to the year in both Westminster and the constituency. Last week in Parliament, I hosted a Westminster Hall debate on Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology, which I, along with a reassuring number of my colleagues, believe to be key to the future of the nuclear industry throughout the UK, and for West Cumbria in particular. I am convinced that constructing single or incremental SMRs on existing nuclear-licensed sites is a credible, sensible and sustainable way to ensure the country’s energy security in the future.

NW Evening Mail 28th Feb 2019 read more »

Posted: 1 March 2019

Small Reactors

THE UK’s Penultimate Power has agreed to form a joint venture with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) to build a novel small modular reactor in the UK to provide power and process heat for heavy industry. The partners want to build a 10 MWe high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactor in the North East of England, replicating a design that has been running in Japan since 1998. Ian Fells, technical director at Penultimate Power and former consultant to the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said the venture is seeking approvals from authorities and he expects the £500m (US$651m) plant will be constructed within the coming 48 months. Plans include scaling up the technology to 100 MWe, and building a factory, preferably in Teesside, to construct the modular plants for use across the UK. Though Fells said a timeline for this has not yet been agreed. Fells says the technology could be used to fill the energy gap left as the UK shuts down dirty coal-fired power plants and as larger, traditional nuclear power plants reach the end of their working lives. Recent cancellations of large-scale nuclear projects in the UK led experts to warn of a looming energy crisis, and concerns the UK would have to return to burning more fossil fuels to provide baseload cover for intermittent renewables.

Chemical Engineer 20th Feb 2019 read more »

Posted: 21 February 2019

Small Reactors

Trudy Harrison: There is huge potential to power the nation using small nuclear reactors. Interest is growing in the potential for small modular reactors to provide low-cost, low-carbon energy – and Cumbria is well-placed to lead the charge, says Trudy Harrison. The global nuclear industry feels to me like it’s suffering a disease akin to gangrene, with bits dropping off. My passion for the industry isn’t just about jobs. There is a demonstrable need for clean, low-carbon electricity now and long into the future. The anticipated requirement for electric vehicles alone could reach an additional capacity of 18GW by 2040. If we are really serious about slowing down climate change, then nuclear must provide a hearty part of the energy mix. And in my Copeland constituency we have an indisputable capability; nowhere else in Europe could you find such a concentration of knowledge and skills. Yet, we’re facing an uncertain future. First Moorside then Wylfa – the headlines have not been positive for new nuclear, despite significant government efforts and financial incentives. Economies of scale, based on the size of a reactor have been, until very recently at least, widely regarded as the most cost-efficient method of development. But it wasn’t always like that. Calder Hall, which began construction in 1953 in Copeland, generated electricity from 1956. It was officially opened by the Queen and consisted of four 50MW Magnox reactors which transmitted electricity into the National Grid for 47 years, until 2003. Today we are desperately fighting to get a whopping 3.4GW power station over the line. But Moorside, the proposed new Generation III nuclear power station to be built adjacent to the Sellafield site, has been beset by a range of problems over many years. One answer could be to build multiple reactors, not bigger reactors. Large reactors try to lower costs by maximising economies of scale, but small nuclear reactors (SMRs) would try to do it with economies of multiples. Having many more SMRs could be the key to our nuclear future.

Politics Home 18th Feb 2019 read more »

Posted: 18 February 2019

Nuclear Research

A new high-tech nuclear centre set to bring millions of pounds to the Midlands has opened. However, this comes at a time when the UK’s nuclear industry faces criticism. The Derby Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing and Research Centre will reportedly deliver on the commitments set out in the government’s nuclear sector deal. The deal seeks to ensure that the UK continues to power British homes through innovation, new technologies and promoting a diverse and skilled workforce in the nuclear sector. NAMRC expects to generate £5m gross-value added a year over the first four years. The centre, which is based on the same model as the Sheffield AMRC, could also be crucial to developing technologies in support of the first small modular reactors (SMRs) in the UK.

The Manufacturer 15th Feb 2019 read more »

Posted: 16 February 2019

Nuclear Research

A new nuclear research and innovation centre is to open in Derby. The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) Midlands aims to support manufacturers and businesses from the sector across the region. Based at the iHub at Infinity Park, the new facility is a collaboration between the Nuclear AMRC, Derby City Council and the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, which is allocating £12.9 million to develop the park’s infrastructure over the next six years. The facility will initially be based in two workshops and two office suites, acting as ‘flexible incubators’ for new manufacturing technologies and developing new electrical controls and instruments.

Energy Live News 14th Feb 2019 read more »

Posted: 15 February 2019