The dodgy dream of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

No2NuclearPower nuClear news No.61, April 2014 14
Nuclear reactors that are small and modular—reactors that generate up to about a third the power of the typical commercial reactor—have received positive attention in the US Congress and elsewhere as a possible way of introducing nuclear generating capacity in smaller and more affordable increments.
But small isn’t always beautiful says Ed Lyman in a new Union of Concerned Scientists report.
Advocates assert that cost savings would be realised by mass-producing major components as standard modules in factories, and shipping the modules to sites for assembly rather than having each reactor custom-designed and built. Smaller-sized reactors would also have lower construction costs. Supporters also state that designs for small modular reactors (SMRs) would be inherently safer, so they could be located closer to densely populated areas than large reactors, even replacing coal-fired power plants at existing sites. Proponents even claim that certain safety regulations could be relaxed for SMRs.
But the safety of the proposed compact designs is unproven—for instance, most of the designs call for weaker containment structures. And the arguments in favour of lower overall costs for SMRs depend on convincing Nuclear Regulators to relax existing safety regulations.
SMRs will probably require tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies or government purchase orders, according to the Washington-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER). They will create new reliability vulnerabilities, as well as serious concerns in relation to both safety and proliferation, so they are unlikely to breathe new life into the increasingly moribund U.S. nuclear power industry. (7)
The report’s author Arjun Makhijani says: “SMRs are a poor bet to solve nuclear power’s problems and we see many troubling ways in which SMRs might actually make the nuclear power industry’s current woes even worse. SMRs are being promoted vigorously in the wake of the failure of the much-vaunted nuclear renaissance. But SMRs don’t actually reduce financial risk; they increase it,transferring it from the reactor purchaser to the manufacturing supply chain.”

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