MV Ramana: Small modular nuclear reactors and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050? The math doesn’t add up. In December 2020, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan released an action plan for small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), which assured us that SMRs will enable, among other things, “a net-zero economy by 2050.” Earlier, O’Regan also stated: “We have not seen a model where we can get to net-zero emissions by 2050 without nuclear (power).” How does one evaluate such assertions? A nuclear plant takes around a decade to go from start of construction to producing electricity. But one can’t start construction of a nuclear reactor immediately. The requisite planning and raising the finances might take another decade. How about SMRs? These will take even longer because the SMRs being developed in Ontario and New Brunswick are just conceptual designs. To develop full-fledged constructible designs is time consuming and expensive. NuScale, the leading U.S. design, has been under development for nearly two decades; it is still not licensed for construction because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has identified various safety concerns. All this after nearly US$1-billion has been spent on the design. The second parameter influencing climate mitigation potential of a technology is cost. Nuclear power, today, is about the most expensive way of generating electricity. The only reactors being built anywhere in North America are currently forecast to cost US$29-billion up from a promised US$14-billion. In the United States, home to the most nuclear plants globally, it costs more than US$10,000 per kilowatt of generating capacity to construct a new nuclear plant, roughly eight to 10 times the cost of wind and utility scale solar power plants, respectively. The bottom line is that the math on SMRs just doesn’t add up. Investing in SMRs is a waste of time and money.
Hill Times 10th March 2021 read more »