Small nuclear reactors – a very costly business

But for all the activity, the nascent SMR industry faces familiar nuclear challenges: cost, public acceptability, security and waste disposal. The nuclear industry has a long record of broken promises over cost

Developing SMRs is not going to be cheap either …40-70 SMRs would need to be ordered to make building a factory worthwhile…….. All the while, the competition from renewable energy gets hotter as it falls in price.

Security is also a key issue for nuclear plants….The challenge for SMRs is that security costs soar relative to power output if there are small reactors in many locations to protect.

Are mini-nuclear reactors the answer to the climate change crisis?
Industry looks to the UK to develop factory-built reactors ready to provide affordable, low-carbon energy wherever it is needed – but issues around security and waste disposal remain,
Guardian, , 24 Nov 15  Mini nuclear power plants could be trucked into a town near you to provide your hot water, or shipped to any country that wants to plug them into their electricity grid from the dock. That is the aim of those developing “small modular reactors” and, from the US to China to Poland, they want the UK to be at the centre of the nascent industry. The UK government says it is “fully enthused” about the technology.

With UN climate change summit in Paris imminent, the question of how to keep the lights on affordably, while cutting emissions, is pressing.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) aim to capture the advantages of nuclear power – always-on, low-carbon energy – while avoiding the problems, principally the vast cost and time taken to build huge plants. Current plants, such as the plannedFrench-Chinese Hinkley Point project in Somerset, have to be built on-site, a task likened to “building a cathedral within a cathedral”.

Instead, SMRs, would be turned out by the dozen in a factory, then transported to sites and plugged in, making them – in theory – cheaper. Companies around the world, including in Russia, South Korea and Argentina, are now trying to turn that theory into practice and many are looking at the nuclear-friendly UK as the place to make it happen……..

The UK has commissioned five studies since July, costing £4.5m, to explore the potential of SMRs and energy secretary Amber Rudd told MPs earlier this month: “We are fully enthused about SMRs. We are doing as much as we can in terms of supporting the technology. SMRs would be an excellent way forward.”…….

Small reactors have been operated for more than 50 years, particularly on military submarines and ships. But,Tom Mundy, head of programme development at US company NuScale said: “The application they are designed for is completely different from civil nuclear electricity.”

Small reactors have also run a remote site at Bilibino in Siberia since 1976, with the excess steam supplying a district heating system, while a US base in Antarctica was powered by a tiny reactor in the 1960s. But no true SMRs, rolling off a factory assembly line, have yet been built…….

Russia, which has long experience of marine nuclear power, has been promising a floating SMR for several years. But the project has been repeatedly delayed, although it is unclear whether the reason is technical or financial.

……Westinghouse made a proposal to the UK in October to put its designs into a new company in which the UK government and industry took a stake and then shared the development costs. “This is what is going to be necessary to move this market forward in the UK,” said Benjamin. “We are not asking the UK government to swallow the elephant all at once.” UK ministers are considering the offer………

But for all the activity, the nascent SMR industry faces familiar nuclear challenges: cost, public acceptability, security and waste disposal. The nuclear industry has a long record of broken promises over cost – Hinkley-type reactors being built by EDF in France and Finland are billions over budget and years behind schedule.

Developing SMRs is not going to be cheap either. Design alone will cost £500m, estimates David Orr, head of nuclear business development at UK engineering firm Rolls Royce, which is “actively engaged” in the technology. He said 40-70 SMRs would need to be ordered to make building a factory worthwhile…….. All the while, the competition from renewable energy gets hotter as it falls in price……..

Security is also a key issue for nuclear plants. Canada’s Bruce Power runs the biggest operational nuclear site in the world in Ontario, with 6.3GW of capacity across eight reactors. Protecting the site requires armed guards and Frank Saunders, head of nuclear oversight and regulatory affairs at Bruce Power, said the company has “the largest tactical unit outside the military” in the province.

The challenge for SMRs is that security costs soar relative to power output if there are small reactors in many locations to protect. “The security costs are hugely magnified when you go to smaller units,” said Saunders…….http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/24/mini-nuclear-reactors-answer-to-climate-change-crisis

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