Generation IV reactors will not save the nuclear industry

Nuclear renaissance? Failing industry is running flat out to stand still Jim Green, 30 Jan 2016, The Ecologist, “………Rhetoric about ‘super safe’ Generation IV reactors will likely continue unabated. That said, critical reports released by the US and French governments last year may signal a slow shift away from Generation IV reactor rhetoric.

The report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) – a government authority under the Ministries of Defense, the Environment, Industry, Research, and Health – states: “There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen.”

IRSN is also sceptical about safety claims: “At the present stage of development, IRSN does not notice evidence that leads to conclude that the systems under review are likely to offer a significantly improved level of safety compared with Generation III reactors … “

The US Government Accountability Office released a report in July 2015 on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other ‘advanced’ reactor concepts in the US. The report concluded:

“While light water SMRs and advanced reactors may provide some benefits, their development and deployment face a number of challenges … Depending on how they are resolved, these technical challenges may result in higher-cost reactors than anticipated, making them less competitive with large LWRs [light water reactors] or power plants using other fuels … Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process, with costs up to $1 billion to $2 billion, to design and certify or license the reactor design, and there is an additional construction cost of several billion dollars more per power plant.”

SMRs-mirage Even SMR boosters are struggling to put a positive spin on the situation. Launching a Nuclear Energy Insider report on SMRs, lead author Kerr Jeferies said: “From the outside it will seem that SMR development has hit a brick wall, but to lump the sector’s difficulties together with the death of the so-called nuclear renaissance would be missing the point.”

According to a US think tank, 48 companies in north America, backed by more than US$1.6 billion (€1.5b) in private capital, are developing plans for advanced nuclear reactors. But even if all that capital was invested in a single R&D project, it would not suffice to commercialise a new reactor type.

The UK government also sees a big future for SMRs and has evenpromised to spend £250 million on “nuclear innovation and Small Modular Reactors”. But it will face two big problems. First, the money won’t go far. And second, nuclear power is already being outcompeted by wind and solar, which are getting cheaper all the time.

Dan Yurman notes in his review of nuclear developments in 2015: “Efforts by start-up type firms to build advanced reactors will continue to generate a lot of media hype, but questions are abundant as to whether this activity will result in prototypes.

“For venture capital firms that have invested in advanced designs, cashing out may mean licensing a design to an established reactor vendor rather than building a first-of-a-kind unit.”

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitornewsletter, where this article was originally published. Nuclear Monitor is published 20 times a year. It has been publishing deeply researched, often strongly critical articles on all aspects of the nuclear cycle since 1978. A must-read for all those who work on this issue! disaster……. www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987010/nuclear_renaissance_failing_industry_is_running_flat_out_to_stand_still.html

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