Archive for the ‘TECHNOLOGY’ Category

Nuclear Power Is a Dead End. We Must Abandon It Completely.

November 3, 2022

In fact, the knock-out arguments against the nuclear industry today are reactors’ cost and deployment time. The greatest barriers to this claimed renaissance—and it is primarily talk, not investment—is its inability to deliver affordable power on time and on budget.

Small nuclear reactors (SMRs) -both slower to deploy than conventional reactors and more expensive per kilowatt capacity. overall, SMRs are inferior to conventional reactors with respect to radioactive waste generation, management requirements, and disposal options.

Even given Europe’s energy crisis, the case against nuclear power has never been so conclusive—and so important.

The Nation, By Paul Hockenos 13 Oct 22,

BERLIN—Amid a confluence of crises—the Ukraine war, an energy crisis, and climate breakdown—nuclear energy is experiencing a renaissance, at least in the rhetoric of politicians and pundits across Europe, North America, and beyond. After all, it’s tempting to propose these generators of low-carbon energy as a panacea to this daunting phalanx of calamities.

But in fact, the case against nuclear power and for genuinely renewable energies has never been so conclusive—and so important. In early March, Russia captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine—the largest in Europe with six reactors, each the size of the one that melted down in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster—and transformed it into an army base from which it fires artillery at Ukrainian positions.

Although this weaponizing of nuclear reactors had long been recognized as a threat, the vulnerability of nuclear power plants in conflict zones is now center stage in Europe. The battlefield in this case is controlled by an unpredictable autocrat who has threatened that he’ll use every means at his disposal to destroy Ukraine. At the Zaporizhzhia station, the Russian military has taken the Ukrainian nuclear engineers hostage, and is working them at gunpoint. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned in August that there’s a “real risk of nuclear disaster” unless the fighting stops. Russia could sabotage a power plant like Zaporizhzhia and attempt to shift the blame onto Ukraine. A nuclear weapon strike would be a crime against humanity, but a disaster at nuclear plant could blur responsibility and complicate the international response. Nuclear plants, where military-scale security is nonexistent, are sitting ducks for acts of terrorism and wartime targeting.

At the same time, the world’s nuclear power champion, France, has punctured the myth that nuclear power is a round-the-clock energy source that can operate without back-up reserves—a favorite trope of wind and solar power skeptics. Nowhere in Europe today is the energy crisis more acute than in France, where for much of this year, between a third and over half of France’s 56 nuclear reactors have been shut down either because weather-warmed rivers cannot cool their systems or on account of corrosion damage, hairline cracks, staff shortages, and pending maintenance work on their geriatric hardware. The outages have forced France to rely on Germany for electricity imports—culled in large part from the wind and solar farms that supply almost half of Germany’s electricity. In August, France’s power prices hit €1,100 per megawatt-hour, more than 10 times the 2021 price, smashing records across the continent………………………………………

Critics’ original concern with nuclear power, namely its safety, remains paramount. The two most catastrophic meltdowns, in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union and the Fukushima site in Japan, in 2011, had horrific repercussions that still haunt those regions. But these mega disasters are only the most well known. According to IAEA, there have been 33 serious incidents at nuclear power stations worldwide since 1952—two in France and six in the United States.

These accident numbers don’t include the toxic fallout from lax disposal and storage of nuclear waste.

Between 1945 and 1993, 13 countries, including the UK, the US, and the Soviet Union, heaved barrels of nuclear waste into their seas—a total of 200,000 tons—presuming the vast ocean waters would dissolve and dilute it. Those casks still lie there today.

This sad chapter belongs to the 80-year-old saga of nuclear waste. Currently, there’s over a quarter-million metric tons of spent fuel rods sitting above ground, usually in cooling pools at both closed-down and operative nuclear plants, waiting like Samuel Beckett’s protagonists Vladimir and Estragon for a definitive solution that will never come.

In northern Europe, the Finns claim that they’ve solved it by digging 100 tunnels 1,400 feet into the bedrock of an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Bothnia. Underway now for decades, this $3.4 billion undertaking, the first permanent repository in the world, will eventually hold all of Finland’s spent nuclear refuse—less than 1 percent of the world’s accumulated radioactive remnants—until about 2100. This highly radioactive mass will, its operators promise, remain catacombed for 100,000 years. (Since nuclear waste is lethal for up to 300,000 years, these sites are a time-bomb for whoever or whatever is inhabiting the planet then, assuming geological conditions allow it to lie peacefully for that long.) In light of Finland’s small volume of radioactive waste, the full lifetime price tag of nearly $8 billion dollars is significantly more per ton than the estimated $34.9 billion, $19.8 billion, and $96 billion that the France, Germany, and the United States respectively will shell out for nuclear waste management, according to the World Nuclear Waste Report 2019.

Most countries don’t have barren islands far from groundwater sources, so they have to make do, like Switzerland did in September when it announced that it intends to excavate a geological storage repository near the German border, closer to German towns in Baden Württemberg than Swiss ones. Germany’s borderland communities are vigorously contesting the choice, which will probably be abandoned by the Swiss. Nearly all proposed sites end up scratched for the obvious reason that nobody wants to live next to a nuclear waste dump.

Nowhere in the world has anyone managed to create a place where we can bury extremely nasty nuclear waste forever,” Denis Florin of Lavoisier Conseil, an energy-focused management consultancy in Paris, told the Financial Times earlier this year. “We cannot go on using nuclear without being adult about the waste, without accepting we need to find a permanent solution.”

The inherent danger of nuclear power is often relativized by advocates as the bitter pill we must choke down in light of its other advantages. In fact, the knock-out arguments against the nuclear industry today are reactors’ cost and deployment time. The greatest barriers to this claimed renaissance—and it is primarily talk, not investment—is its inability to deliver affordable power on time and on budget.

Nuclear energy is such a colossal expense—into the tens of billions of dollars, like the $30 billion Vogtle units in Waynesboro, Ga.—that few private investors will touch them, even with prodigious government bankrolling.

The UK government finally found a taker for its Hinkley Point C station in 2016 when it offered lavish subsidies to the French energy firm EDF. But even that deal becomes less sweet the higher construction costs spiral and the longer EDF postpones its opening beyond 2025. So catastrophic are the cost overruns of EDF’s projects worldwide that the company could no longer service its €43 billion debt and this year agreed to full nationalization. But experts say this alone won’t solve any of the fundamental problems at Hinkley C or the Flamanville plant in Normandy, which is 10 years behind schedule, with costs fives times in excess of the original budget. Cost overruns are one reason that one in eight new reactor projects that start construction are abandoned.

While safety concerns drive up the cost of nuclear plant insurance, the price of renewables is predicted to sink by 50 percent or more by 2030. Study after study attests that wind and solar cost a fraction of the price of nuclear power: at least three to eight times the bang for the buck in terms of energy generation and climate protection, at a time when the exorbitant cost of energy is causing recessions and street protests across Europe. It is because solar photovoltaic and wind power are the cheapest bulk power source in most of the world that renewables, grids, and storage now account for more than 80 percent of power sector investment. In 2021, companies, governments, and households invested 15 times as much in renewable energy than in nuclear. They’re simply the better buy.


Indeed, in the face of an ever more cataclysmic climate crisis that demands solutions now—like hitting the EU’s 2030 targets of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 55 percent of 1990 levels by 2030—the build-out of nuclear is painfully, prohibitively slow. In Europe, just one nuclear reactor has been planned, commissioned, financed, constructed, and put online since 2000—that’s Finland’s Olkiluoto-3 reactors (March 2022). Europe’s flagship nuclear projects—called European Pressurized Reactors—have been dogged by delays from the start. The Olkiluoto-3 reactors in Finland, which had been scheduled to go online in 2009, still isn’t heating homes. Globally, the average construction time—which count the planning, licensing, site preparation, and arranging of finances—is about a decade.

Small-scale modular reactors (SMR), advanced with funding during the Obama administration, are supposedly the industry’s savior—the so-called next generation—although they’ve been around for decades. Purportedly quicker to build, with factory-made parts, they generate at most a 10th of the energy as a conventional reactor. Yet they are not significantly different in terms of their problems. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2022 claims that, so far, they have been both slower to deploy than conventional reactors and more expensive per kilowatt capacity. A recent study conducted by Stanford University and University of British Columbia came to the conclusion that “overall, SMRs are inferior to conventional reactors with respect to radioactive waste generation, management requirements, and disposal options.”


Finally, the last claim of nuclear supporters is that the massive baseload supply that reactors provide when they’re up and running is just what systems reliant on weather-based renewables need at down times. In fact, nuclear is the opposite of what decentralized clean energy systems require.

Renewables and nuclear energy don’t mix well in one system, explains Toby Couture of the Berlin-based think tank E3 Analytics. “What renewables need is not so-called baseload power,” he told me, “which is inflexible and unable to ramp up and down, but flexible, nimble supply provided by the likes of storage capacity, smart grids, demand management, and a growing toolbox of other mechanisms, not the large and inflexible supply of nuclear reactors.”

Couture added, “The inability of nuclear power to ramp down effectively to ‘make room’ for cheap wind and solar is one of the main reasons why France’s own domestic renewable energy development has lagged behind its peers.” According to Couture, France’s inability to flexibly accommodate wind and solar has exacerbated the continent-wide power supply crunch.

In light of the energy crisis, Germany may extend the lifetime of two of its three remaining nuclear plants for three months, in a reserve capacity beyond their scheduled end-of-year closure date. This emergency measure, a direct consequence of the previous governments’ failures, does not alter the logic against nuclear power, which even Germany’s own nuclear industry now accepts. Renewables, clean tech, and energy efficiency are easy to rollout, cost-effective, safe, and proven. Let’s concentrate on deploying these technologies at full speed to decarbonize our world before the impacts of climate change overwhelm us.

Small nuclear reactors will bleed us dry and won’t solve climate change – unfounded promises

August 4, 2022

there is every reason to believe that if and when a NuScale SMR is built, its final cost too will vastly exceed current official estimates. 

Unfounded promises — Beyond Nuclear International Small Modular Reactors epitomize culture that embraces exaggeration
By M.V. Ramana
In 2006, Elizabeth Holmes, founder of a Silicon Valley startup company called Theranos, was featured in Inc magazine’s annual list of 30 under 30 entrepreneurs. Her entrepreneurship involved blood, or more precisely, testing blood. Instead of the usual vials of blood, Holmes claimed to be able to obtain precise results about the health of patients using a very small sample of blood drawn from just a pinprick. 

The promise was enticing and Holmes had a great run for a decade. She was supported by a bevy of celebrities and powerful individuals, including former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, James Mattis, who later served as U.S. secretary of defense, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Not that any of them would be expected to know much about medical science or blood testing. But all that public endorsement helped. As did savvy marketing by Holmes. Theranos raised over $700 million from investors, and receive a market valuation of nearly $9 billion by 2014

The downfall started the following year, when the Wall Street Journal exposed that Theranos was actually using standard blood tests behind the scenes because its technology did not really work. In January 2022, Holmes was found guilty of defrauding investors.

The second part of the Theranos story is an exception. In a culture which praises a strategy of routine exaggeration, encapsulated by the slogan “fake it till you make it”, it is rare for a tech CEO being found guilty of making false promises. But the first part of Theranos story—hype, advertisement, and belief in impossible promises—is very much the norm, and not just in the case of companies involved in the health care industry. 

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

Nuclear power offers a great example. In 2003, an important study produced by nuclear advocates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified costs, safety, proliferation and waste as the four “unresolved problems” with nuclear power. Not surprisingly, then, companies trying to sell new reactor designs claim that their product will be cheaper, will produce less—or  no—radioactive waste, be immune to accidents, and not contribute to nuclear proliferation. These tantalizing promises are the equivalent of testing blood with a pin prick. 

And, as was the case with Theranos, many such companies have been backed up by wealthy investors and influential spokespeople, who have typically had as much to do with nuclear power as Kissinger had to with testing blood. Examples include Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor; Stephen Harper, the former Prime Minister of Canada; and  Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin group. But just as the Theranos product did not do what Elizabeth Holmes and her backers were claiming, new nuclear reactor designs will not solve the multiple challenges faced by nuclear power.

One class of nuclear reactors that have been extensively promoted in this vein during the last decade are Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The promotion has been productive for these companies, especially in Canada. Some of these companies have received large amounts of funding from the national and provincial governments. This includes Terrestrial Energy that received CAD 20 million and Moltex that received CAD 50.5 million, both from the Federal Government. The province of New Brunswick added to these by awarding CAD 5 million to Moltex and CAD 25 million in all to ARC-100

All these companies have made various claims about the above mentioned problems. Moltex, for example, claims that its reactor design “reduces waste”, a claim also made by ARC-100. ARC-100 also claims to be inherently safe, while Terrestrial claims to be cost-competive. Both Terrestrial and ARC-100 claim to do well on proliferation resistance. In general, no design will admit to failing on any of these challenges. 

Dealing with any of these challenges—safety enhancement, proliferation resistance, decreased generation of waste, and cost reduction—will have to be reflected in the technical design of the nuclear reactor. The problem is that each of these goals will drive the requirements on the reactor design in different, sometimes opposing, directions.


The hardest challenge is economics. Nuclear energy is an expensive way to generate electricity. In the 2021 edition of its annual cost report, Lazard, the Wall Street firm, estimated that the levelized cost of electricity from new nuclear plants will be between $131 and $204 per megawatt hour; in contrast, newly constructed utility-scale solar and wind plants produce electricity at somewhere between $26 and $50 per megawatt hour according to Lazard. The gap between nuclear power and renewables is large, and is growing larger. While nuclear costs have increased with time, the levelized cost of electricity for solar and wind have declined rapidly, and this is expected to continue over the coming decades

Even operating costs for nuclear power plants are high and many reactors have been shut down because they are unprofitable. In 2018, NextEra, a large electric utility company in the United States, decided to shut down the Duane Arnold nuclear reactor, because it estimated that replacing nuclear with wind power will “save customers nearly $300 million in energy costs, on a net present value basis.” 

The high cost of constructing and operating nuclear plants is a key driver of the decline of nuclear power around the world. In 1996, nuclear energy’s share of global commercial gross electricity generation peaked at 17.5 percent. By 2020, that had fallen to 10.1 percent, a 40 percent decline. 

The high costs described above are for large nuclear power plants. SMRs, as the name suggests, produce relatively small amounts of electricity in comparison. Economically, this is a disadvantage. When the power output of the reactor decreases, it generates less revenue for the owning utility, but the cost of constructing the reactor is not proportionately smaller. SMRs will, therefore, cost more than large reactors for each unit (megawatt) of generation capacity. This makes electricity from small reactors more expensive. This is why most of the early small reactors built in the United States shut down early: they just couldn’t compete economically.

SMR proponents argue that the lost economies of scale will be compensated by savings through mass manufacture in factories and as these plants are built in large numbers costs will go down. But this claim is not very tenable. Historically, in the United States and France, the countries with the highest number of nuclear plants, costs went up, not down, with experience. Further, to achieve such savings, these reactors have to be manufactured by the hundreds, if not the thousands, even under very optimistic assumptions about rates of learning. Finally, even if SMRs were to become comparable in cost per unit capacity of large nuclear reactors, that would not be sufficient to make them economically competitive, because their electricity production cost would still be far higher than solar and wind energy.

…………………………………………. Cost escalations are already apparent in the case of the NuScale SMR, arguably the design that is most developed in the West. The estimated cost of the Utah Association of Municipal Power Systems project went from approximately $3 billion in 2014 to $6.1 billion in 2020—this is to build twelve units of the NuScale SMR that were to generate 600 megawatts of power. The cost was so high that NuScale had to change its offering to a smaller number of units that produce only 462 megawatts, but at a cost of $5.32 billion. In other words, the cost per kilowatt of generation capacity is around $11,500 (US dollars). That figure is around 80 percent more than the per kilowatt cost of the infamous Vogtle project at the time its construction started. Since that initial estimate of $14 billion for the two AP1000 reactors, the estimated cost of the much delayed project has escalated beyond $30 billion. As with the AP1000 reactors, there is every reason to believe that if and when a NuScale SMR is built, its final cost too will vastly exceed current official estimates. ……………


The other promise made by SMR developers is how fast they can be deployed. GE-Hitachi, for example, claims that an SMR could be “complete as early as 2028” at the Darlington site.  ARC-100 described an operational date of 2029 as an “aggressive but achievable target”. 

Again, the historical record suggests otherwise. Consider NuScale. In 2008, the company projected that “a NuScale plant could be producing electricity by 2015-16”. As of 2022, the company projects 2029-30 as the date for start of generation. Russia’s KLT-40S, a reactor deployed on a barge, offers another example. When construction started in 2007, the reactor was projected to start operations in October 2010. It was actually commissioned a whole decade later, in May 2020. 

The SMR designs being considered in Canada are even further off. In December 2021, Ontario Power Generation chose the BWRX-300 for the Darlington site. That design is based on GE-Hitachi’s Economical Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) design, which was submitted for licensing to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2005. That ESBWR design was changed nine times; the NRC finally approved revision 10 from 2014. If the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission does its due diligence, it might be 2030 or later before the BWRX-300 is even licensed for construction. That assumes that the BWRX-300 design remains unchanged. And, then, of course, there will be the inevitable delays (and cost escalations) during construction. ………….

Waste, Proliferation and Safety

Small reactors also cause all of the usual problems: the risk of severe accidents, the production of radioactive waste, and the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation. …………

……………  small modular reactor proposals often envision building multiple reactors at a site. The aim is to lower costs by taking advantage of common infrastructure elements. The configuration offered by NuScale, for example, has twelve reactor modules at each site, although it also offers four- and six-unit versions. With multiple reactors, the combined radioactive inventories might be comparable to that of a large reactor. Multiple reactors at a site increase the risk that an accident at one unit might either induce accidents at other reactors or make it harder to take preventive actions at others. This is especially the case if the underlying reason for the accident is a common one that affects all of the reactors, such as an earthquake. In the case of the accidents at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, explosions at one reactor damaged the spent fuel pool in a co-located reactor. Radiation leaks from one unit made it difficult for emergency workers to approach the other units. ……………………………

Claims by SMR proponents about not producing waste are not credible, especially if waste is understood not as one kind of material but a number of different streams. A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined three specific SMR designs and calculates that “relative to a gigawatt-scale PWR” these three will produce up to 5.5 times more spent fuel, 30 times more long-lived low and intermediate level waste, and 35 times more short-lived low and intermediate level waste. In other words, in comparison with large light water reactors, SMRs produce more, not less, waste per unit of electricity generated. As Paul Dorfman from the University of Sussex commented, “compared with existing conventional reactors, SMRs would increase the volume and complexity of the nuclear waste problem”.

Further, some of the SMR designs involve the use of materials that are corrosive and/or pyrophoric. Dealing with these forms is more complicated. For example, the ARC-100 design will use sodium that cannot be disposed of in geological repositories without extensive processing. Such processing has never been carried out at scale. The difference in chemical properties mean that the methods developed for dealing with waste from CANDU reactors will not work as such for these wastes.

Many SMR designs also make the problem of proliferation worse. Unlike the CANDU reactor design that uses natural uranium, many SMR designs use fuel forms that require either enriched uranium or plutonium. Either plutonium or uranium that is highly enriched in the uranium-235 isotope can be used to make nuclear weapons. Because uranium enrichment facilities can be reconfigured to alter enrichment levels, it is possible for a uranium enrichment facility designed to produce fuel for a reactor to be reconfigured to produce fuel for a bomb. All else being equal, nuclear reactor designs that require fuel with higher levels of uranium enrichment pose a greater proliferation risk—this is the reason for the international effort to convert highly enriched uranium fueled research reactors to low enriched uranium fuel or shutting them down.

Plutonium is created in all nuclear power plants that use uranium fuel, but it is produced alongside intensely radioactive fission products. Practically any mixture of plutonium isotopes could be used for making weapons. Using the plutonium either to fabricate nuclear fuel or to make nuclear weapons, require the “reprocessing” of the spent fuel. Canada has not reprocessed its power reactor spent fuel, but some SMR designs, such as the Moltex design, propose to “recycle” CANDU spent fuel. Last year, nine US nonproliferation experts wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing serious concerns “about the technology Moltex proposes to use.” 

The proliferation problem is made worse by SMRs in many ways. ……………………..


The saga of Theranos should remind us to be skeptical of unfounded promises. Such promises are the fuel that drive the current interest in small modular nuclear reactors………

Rather than seeing the writing on the wall, unfortunately, government agencies are wasting money on funding small modular reactor proposals. Worse, they seek to justify such funding by repeating the tall claims made by promoters of these technologies……

Lost in space: Astronauts struggle to regain bone density

August 4, 2022

France 24 30/06/2022 Paris (AFP) – Astronauts lose decades’ worth of bone mass in space that many do not recover even after a year back on Earth, researchers said Thursday, warning that it could be a “big concern” for future missions to Mars.

Previous research has shown astronauts lose between one to two percent of bone density for every month spent in space, as the lack of gravity takes the pressure off their legs when it comes to standing and walking.

To find out how astronauts recover once their feet are back on the ground, a new study scanned the wrists and ankles of 17 astronauts before, during and after a stay on the International Space Station.

The bone density lost by astronauts was equivalent to how much they would shed in several decades if they were back on Earth, said study co-author Steven Boyd of Canada’s University of Calgary and director of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health.

The researchers found that the shinbone density of nine of the astronauts had not fully recovered after a year on Earth — and were still lacking around a decade’s worth of bone mass.

The astronauts who went on the longest missions, which ranged from four to seven months on the ISS, were the slowest to recover.

“The longer you spend in space, the more bone you lose,” Boyd told AFP.

Boyd said it is a “big concern” for planned for future missions to Mars, which could see astronauts spend years in space……………………..

Guillemette Gauquelin-Koch, the head of medicine research at France’s CNES space agency, said that the weightlessness experienced in space is “most drastic physical inactivity there is”.

“Even with two hours of sport a day, it is like you are bedridden for the other 22 hours,” said the doctor, who was not part of the study.

“It will not be easy for the crew to set foot on Martian soil when they arrive — it’s very disabling.”………………………………….

Much hyping for France’s NUWARD small modular reactor (SMR) design: construction to start in 2030 (but will it be a lemon?)

August 4, 2022

France’s NUWARD SMR Will Be Test Case for European Early Joint Nuclear Regulatory Review,   Power, 5 June 22. The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), the Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety (SUJB), and Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) have picked France’s NUWARD small modular reactor (SMR) design as a test case for an early joint regulatory review for SMRs. The development marks a notable step by European regulators to align practices in a bid to harmonize licensing and regulation for SMRs in the region.

EDF, an entity that is majority held by the French government, on June 2 announced the reactor design will be the subject of the review, which “will be based on the current set of national regulations from each country, the highest international safety objectives and reference levels, and up-to-date knowledge and relevant good practice.”

The technical discussions and collaborative efforts associated with the review will both help ASN, STUK, and SUJB “increase their respective knowledge of each other’s regulatory practices at the European level,” as well as “improve NUWARD’s ability to anticipate the challenges of international licensing and meet future market needs,” it said.

A European Frontrunner

NUWARD, which is still currently in the conceptual design phase, may be a frontrunner in the deployment of SMRs in Europe. It was unveiled in 2019 by EDF, France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), French defense contractor Naval Group, and TechnicAtome, a designer of naval propulsion nuclear reactors and an operator of nuclear defense facilities. The consortium in May tasked Belgian engineering firm Tractabel with completing—by October 2022—conceptual design studies for parts of the conventional island (turbine hall), the balance of plant (water intake and servicing system), and the 3D modeling of the buildings that will house those systems.

Launched as a design that derives from the “best-in-class French technologies” and “more than 50 years of experience in pressurized water reactor (PWR) design, development, construction, and operation,” the design proposes a 340-MWe power plant configured with twin 170-MWe modules. NUWARD is based on an integrated PWR design with full integration of the main components within the reactor pressure vessel, including the control rod drive mechanisms, compact steam generators, and pressurizer, CEA says.

As “the most compact reactor in the world,” the design is well-suited for power generation, including replacing coal and gas-fired generation, as well as for electrification of medium-sized cities and isolated industrial sites, CEA says. According to Tractabel, the next phase of the NUWARD project—the basic design completion—is slated to begin in 2023. Construction of a reference plant is expected to start in 2030.

Crucial to SMR Deployment: Harmonization of Regulations

On Thursday, EDF noted that while SMR technology innovation is important, deployment of SMRs, which will be integral to the energy transition toward carbon neutrality, will require “a serial production process and a clear regulatory framework.” Harmonization of regulations and requirements in Europe and elsewhere will be “an essential element to support aspirations of standardization of design, in-factory series production and limited design adaptations to country-specific requirements,” it said.  

Several efforts to encourage collaboration on SMR licensing and regulatory alignment are already underway in Europe. These include the European SMR Partnership led by FORATOM, the Brussels-based trade association for the nuclear energy industry in Europe, and the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNETP), as well as the Nuclear Harmonisation and Standardisation Initiative (NHSI), which the International Atomic Energy Agency launched in March.

The European Union is separately spearheading the ELSMOR project, which aims to enhance the European capability to assess and develop the innovative light water reactor (LWR) SMR concepts and their safety features, as well as sharing that information with policymakers and regulators.

SMRs Part of Future Plans for France, Czech Republic, Finland

Participation of the three countries—France, the Czech Republic, and Finland—is noteworthy for their near-term plans to expand generation portfolios with new nuclear. French President Emmanuel Macron on Feb. 10 said France will build six new nuclear reactors and will consider building eight more. Macron also notably said $1.1 billion would be made available through the France 2030 re-industrialization plan for the NUWARD SMR project.

In the Czech Republic, which has six existing nuclear reactors that generate about a third of its power, energy giant ČEZ has designated a site at the Temelín Nuclear Power Plant as a potential site for an SMR. ČEZ has signed a memorandum of understanding on SMRs with NuScale, and it also has cooperation agreements with GE Hitachi, Rolls-Royce, EDF, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, and Holtec.

Finland has five operating reactors, and it is in the process of starting up Olkiluoto 3, a 1.6-GW EPR (EDF’s next-generation nuclear reactor), whose construction began in 2005. Two others were planned: Olkiluoto 4 and Hanhikivi 1. Early in May, however, Finnish-led consortium Fennovoima said it had scrapped an engineering, procurement, and construction contract for Russia’s state-owned Rosatom to build the 1.2-GW Hanhikivi 1, citing delays and increased risks due to the war in Ukraine. On May 24, Fennovoima withdrew the Hanhikivi 1 nuclear power plant construction license application.

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is actively developing an SMR intended for district heating. While Finland now mostly relies on coal for district heat, it has pledged to phase out coal by 2029. VTT, notably, coordinates with the ELSMOR project for European SMR licensing practices. In addition, VTT says it is leading a work package related to the new McSAFER project, which is developing next-generation calculation tools for the modeling of SMR physics.

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

Nuclear waste from small modular reactors

August 4, 2022

Lindsay M. Krall Lindsay.Krall@skb.seAllison M. Macfarlane, and Rodney C. Ewing Info & Affiliations

May 31, 2022  Small modular reactors (SMRs), proposed as the future of nuclear energy, have purported cost and safety advantages over existing gigawatt-scale light water reactors (LWRs). However, few studies have assessed the implications of SMRs for the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The low-, intermediate-, and high-level waste stream characterization presented here reveals that SMRs will produce more voluminous and chemically/physically reactive waste than LWRs, which will impact options for the management and disposal of this waste. Although the analysis focuses on only three of dozens of proposed SMR designs, the intrinsically higher neutron leakage associated with SMRs suggests that most designs are inferior to LWRs with respect to the generation, management, and final disposal of key radionuclides in nuclear waste.


Small modular reactors (SMRs; i.e., nuclear reactors that produce <300 MWelec each) have garnered attention because of claims of inherent safety features and reduced cost. However, remarkably few studies have analyzed the management and disposal of their nuclear waste streams. Here, we compare three distinct SMR designs to an 1,100-MWelec pressurized water reactor in terms of the energy-equivalent volume, (radio-)chemistry, decay heat, and fissile isotope composition of (notional) high-, intermediate-, and low-level waste streams. Results reveal that water-, molten salt–, and sodium-cooled SMR designs will increase the volume of nuclear waste in need of management and disposal by factors of 2 to 30. The excess waste volume is attributed to the use of neutron reflectors and/or of chemically reactive fuels and coolants in SMR designs. That said, volume is not the most important evaluation metric; rather, geologic repository performance is driven by the decay heat power and the (radio-)chemistry of spent nuclear fuel, for which SMRs provide no benefit. 

 SMRs will not reduce the generation of geochemically mobile 129I, 99Tc, and 79Se fission products, which are important dose contributors for most repository designs. In addition, SMR spent fuel will contain relatively high concentrations of fissile nuclides, which will demand novel approaches to evaluating criticality during storage and disposal. Since waste stream properties are influenced by neutron leakage, a basic physical process that is enhanced in small reactor cores, SMRs will exacerbate the challenges of nuclear waste management and disposal.

In recent years, the number of vendors promoting small modular reactor (SMR) designs, each having an electric power capacity <300 MWelec, has multiplied dramatically (12). Most recently constructed reactors have electric power capacities >1,000 MWelec and utilize water as a coolant. Approximately 30 of the 70 SMR designs listed in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Advanced Reactors Information System are considered “advanced” reactors, which call for seldom-used, nonwater coolants (e.g., helium, liquid metal, or molten salt) (3). Developers promise that these technologies will reduce the financial, safety, security, and waste burdens associated with larger nuclear power plants that operate at the gigawatt scale (3). Here, we make a detailed assessment of the impact of SMRs on the management and disposal of nuclear waste relative to that generated by larger commercial reactors of traditional design.

Nuclear technology developers and advocates often employ simple metrics, such as mass or total radiotoxicity, to suggest that advanced reactors will generate “less” spent nuclear fuel (SNF) or high-level waste (HLW) than a gigawatt-scale pressurized water reactor (PWR), the prevalent type of commercial reactor today. For instance, Wigeland et al. (4) suggest that advanced reactors will reduce the mass and long-lived radioactivity of HLW by 94 and ∼80%, respectively. These bulk metrics, however, offer little insight into the resources that will be required to store, package, and dispose of HLW (5). Rather, the safety and the cost of managing a nuclear waste stream depend on its fissile, radiological, physical, and chemical properties (6). Reactor type, size, and fuel cycle each influence the properties of a nuclear waste stream, which in addition to HLW, can be in the form of low- and intermediate-level waste (LILW) (68). Although the costs and time line for SMR deployment are discussed in many reports, the impact that these fuel cycles will have on nuclear waste management and disposal is generally neglected (911).

Here, we estimate the amount and characterize the nature of SNF and LILW for three distinct SMR designs. From the specifications given in the NuScale integral pressurized water reactor (iPWR) certification application, we analyze basic principles of reactor physics relevant to estimating the volumes and composition of iPWR waste and then, apply a similar methodology to a back-end analysis of sodium- and molten salt–cooled SMRs. Through this bottom-up framework, we find that, compared with existing PWRs, SMRs will increase the volume and complexity of LILW and SNF. This increase of volume and chemical complexity will be an additional burden on waste storage, packaging, and geologic disposal. Also, SMRs offer no apparent benefit in the development of a safety case for a well-functioning geological repository.

1. SMR Neutronics and Design………………

2. Framework for Waste Comparison………….

3. SMR Waste Streams: Volumes and Characteristics………….


3.3.2. Corroded vessels from molten salt reactors.

Molten salt reactor vessel lifetimes will be limited by the corrosive, high-temperature, and radioactive in-core environment (2324). In particular, the chromium content of 316-type stainless steel that constitutes a PWR pressure vessel is susceptible to corrosion in halide salts (25). Nevertheless, some developers, such as ThorCon, plan to adopt this stainless steel rather than to qualify a more corrosion-resistant material for the reactor vessel (25).

Terrestrial Energy may construct their 400-MWth IMSR vessel from Hastelloy N, a nickel-based alloy that has not been code certified for commercial nuclear applications by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (2627). Since this nickel-based alloy suffers from helium embrittlement (27), Terrestrial Energy envisions a 7-y lifetime for their reactor vessel (28). Molten salt reactor vessels will become contaminated by salt-insoluble fission products (28) and will also become neutron-activated through exposure to a thermal neutron flux greater than 1012 neutrons/cm2-s (29). Thus, it is unlikely that a commercially viable decontamination process will enable the recycling of their alloy constituents. Terrestrial Energy’s 400-MWth SMR might generate as much as 1.0 m3/GWth-y of steel or nickel alloy in need of management and disposal as long-lived LILW (Fig. 1Table 1, and SI Appendix, Fig. S3 and section 2) [on original]…………

4. Management and Disposal of SMR Waste

The excess volume of SMR wastes will bear chemical and physical differences from PWR waste that will impact their management and final disposal. …………………….

5. Conclusions

This analysis of three distinct SMR designs shows that, relative to a gigawatt-scale PWR, these reactors will increase the energy-equivalent volumes of SNF, long-lived LILW, and short-lived LILW by factors of up to 5.5, 30, and 35, respectively. These findings stand in contrast to the waste reduction benefits that advocates have claimed for advanced nuclear technologies. More importantly, SMR waste streams will bear significant (radio-)chemical differences from those of existing reactors. Molten salt– and sodium-cooled SMRs will use highly corrosive and pyrophoric fuels and coolants that, following irradiation, will become highly radioactive. Relatively high concentrations of 239Pu and 235U in low–burnup SMR SNF will render recriticality a significant risk for these chemically unstable waste streams.

SMR waste streams that are susceptible to exothermic chemical reactions or nuclear criticality when in contact with water or other repository materials are unsuitable for direct geologic disposal. Hence, the large volumes of reactive SMR waste will need to be treated, conditioned, and appropriately packaged prior to geological disposal. These processes will introduce significant costs—and likely, radiation exposure and fissile material proliferation pathways—to the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and entail no apparent benefit for long-term safety.

Although we have analyzed only three of the dozens of proposed SMR designs, these findings are driven by the basic physical reality that, relative to a larger reactor with a similar design and fuel cycle, neutron leakage will be enhanced in the SMR core. Therefore, most SMR designs entail a significant net disadvantage for nuclear waste disposal activities. Given that SMRs are incompatible with existing nuclear waste disposal technologies and concepts, future studies should address whether safe interim storage of reactive SMR waste streams is credible in the context of a continued delay in the development of a geologic repository in the United States.

Supporting Information

Appendix 01 (PDF)


This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. E.J.S. is a guest editor invited by the Editorial Board.


Diseconomics and other factors mean that small nuclear reactors are duds

August 4, 2022

Such awkward realities won’t stop determined lobbyists and legislators from showering tax funds on SMR developers, seen as the industry’s last hope of revival (at least for now). With little private capital at stake, taxpayers bearing most of the cost, and customers bearing the cost-overrun and performance risks190 (as they did in the similarly structured WPPSS nuclear fiasco four decades ago), some SMRs may get built. I expect they’ll fail for the same fundamental reasons as their predecessors, then be quickly forgotten as marketers substitute the next shiny object

A lifetime of such disappointments has not yet induced sobriety. As long as the industry can fund potent lobbying that leverages orders of magnitude more federal funding, the party will carry on.

US nuclear power: Status, prospects, and climate implications, Science Direct,  Amory B.Lovins,  Stanford University, USA    The Electricity JournalVolume 35, Issue 4, May 2022, 

”…………………………………………………….. Advanced” or “Small Modular Reactors,” SMRs174, seek to revive and improve concepts generally tried and rejected decades ago due to economic175, technical176, safety177, or proliferation178 flaws179. BNEF estimates that early SMRs might generate at ~10× current solar prices, falling by severalfold after tens of GW were built, but not by enough to come anywhere near competing. Despite strong Federal support, proposed projects are challenged to find enough customers180 and markets181. Developers and nations are also pursuing >50 diverse designs—a repeatedly reproven failure condition.

SMRs’ basic economics are worse than meets the eye, because their goalposts keep receding. Reactors are built big because, for physics reasons, they don’t scale down well. Small reactors, say their more thoughtful advocates, will produce electricity initially about twice as costly as today’s big ones, which in turn, as noted earlier, are ~3–13× costlier per MWh than modern renewables (let alone efficiency). But those renewables will get another ~2× cheaper (say BNEF and NREL) by the time SMRs could be tested and start to scale toward the mass production that’s supposed to cut their costs. High volume cannot possibly cut SMRs’ costs by 2 × (3 to 13) × 2-fold, or ~12× to ~52×.

 Indeed, SMRs couldn’t compete even if the steam they produce to turn the turbine were free. Why not? In big light-water reactors, ~78–87% of the prohibitive capital cost buys non-nuclear components like the turbine, generator, heat sink, switchyard, and controls. Thus even if the nuclear island were free and a shared non-nuclear remainder were still at GW scale so it didn’t cost more per unit182, the whole SMR complex would still be manyfold out of the money.

SMRs are also too late. Despite streamlined (if not premature) licensing and many billions in Federal funding commitments, the first SMR module delivery isn’t expected until 2029. That’s in the same smaller-LWR project that just lost over half its subscribed sales as customers considered cost, timing, and risk183, and may lose the rest if they read a soberly scathing 2022 critique184. That analysis found that the vendor claims very low financial and performance risks but opaquely imposes them all on the customers. The first “advanced” reactors (a sodium-cooled fast reactor and a high-temperature gas reactor), ambitiously skipping over prototypes, are hoped by some advocates to start up in 2027–28. DOE in 2017 rosily assessed that if such initial projects succeeded, a first commercial demonstrator would then take another 6–8 years’ construction and 5 years’ operation before commercial orders, implying commercial generation at earliest in the late 2030s, more plausibly in the 2040s. But the US Administration plans to decarbonize the grid with renewables by 2035, preëmpting SMRs’ climate mission185.

An additional challenge would be siting new SMRs or clusters of them (which cuts cost but means that a problem with one SMR can affect, or block access to, others at the same site, as was predicted and experienced at Fukushima Daiichi). It looks harder to secure numerous sites and offtake agreements than a few. It would take roughly 50 SMR orders to justify building a factory to start capturing economies of production scale, and hundreds or thousands of SMRs to start seeing meaningful, though inadequate, cost reductions. A study assuming high electricity demand and cheap SMRs estimated a US need for just 350 SMRs by 2050186; some advocates expect far more. It’s hard to imagine how dozens of States and hundreds of localities could quickly approve those sites, especially given internal NRC dissension on basic SMR safety187 and the obvious financial risks188.

No credible path could deploy enough SMR capacity to replace inevitably retiring reactors timely and produce significant additional output by then—but efficiency and renewables could readily do that and more, based on their deployment rates and price behaviors observed in the US and global marketplace. For example189, through 2020, CAISO (wholesale power manager for a seventh of the US economy) reported 120 GW of renewables and storage in its interconnection queue, plus 158 GW in the non-ISO West; just solar-paired-with-storage projects in CAISO rose to over 71 GW by 5 Jan 2022, with the paired solar totaling nearly 64 GW—all three orders of magnitude more than the first 77-MW NuScale module hoped to enter service many years later.

Such awkward realities won’t stop determined lobbyists and legislators from showering tax funds on SMR developers, seen as the industry’s last hope of revival (at least for now). With little private capital at stake, taxpayers bearing most of the cost, and customers bearing the cost-overrun and performance risks190 (as they did in the similarly structured WPPSS nuclear fiasco four decades ago), some SMRs may get built. I expect they’ll fail for the same fundamental reasons as their predecessors, then be quickly forgotten as marketers substitute the next shiny object. 

A lifetime of such disappointments has not yet induced sobriety. As long as the industry can fund potent lobbying that leverages orders of magnitude more federal funding, the party will carry on. But where does its seemingly perpetual disappointment leave the Earth’s imperiled climate?………………………….

New nuclear reactors will pose a bigger, hotter, more long-lasting waste problem

April 30, 2022

As Boris Johnson prepares a new push for nuclear power, the £131bn
problem of how to safely dispose of vast volumes of radioactive waste
created by the last British atomic energy programme remains unsolved.

The hugely expensive and dangerous legacy of the UK’s 20th-century nuclear
revolution amounts to 700,000 cubic metres of toxic waste – roughly the
volume of 6,000 doubledecker buses. Much of it is stored at Sellafield in
Cumbria, which the Office for Nuclear Regulation says is one of the most
complex and hazardous nuclear sites in the world.

As yet, there is nowhere
to safely and permanently deposit this waste. Nearly 50 years ago the
solution of a deep geological disposal facility (GDF) was put forward, but
decades later the UK is no nearer to building one.

Experts say new nuclear
facilities will only add to the problem of what to do with radioactive
waste from nuclear energy and that the “back end” issue of the
hazardous toxic waste from the technology must not be hidden.

An assessment by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) says spent fuel from new
nuclear reactors will be of such high temperatures it would need to stay on
site for 140 years before it could be removed to a GDF, if one is ever
built in the UK.

“It is essential to talk about the back end of the
nuclear fuel cycle when you are considering building new nuclear power
stations,” said Claire Corkhill, a professor of nuclear material
degradation at the University of Sheffield and a member of the Committee on
Radioactive Waste Management, an independent body that advises the

Whilst we have a plan to finally and safely deal with the
waste, it is less certain how this will be applied to the modern nuclear
reactors that the government are planning to roll out. “These are
completely different to previous reactors and we are at a very early stage
of understanding how to deal with the waste.

In my personal view, I do not
think we should be building any new nuclear reactors until we have a
geological disposal facility available.” “The amount of legacy waste is
not small in terms of nuclear waste,” said Corkhill. “It is expensive
to deal with. These materials are hazardous and we are looking at an
underground footprint of some 20km at a depth of 200 metres to 1,000

So regarding new nuclear sites, we need to think about whether it
is possible to build a GDF big enough for all the legacy waste and the new
nuclear waste.” Steve Thomas, a professor of energy policy at the
University of Greenwich, said: “Despite 65 years of using nuclear power
in Britain, we are still, at best, decades away from having facilities to
safely dispose of the waste. Until we know this can be done, it is
premature to embark on a major new programme of nuclear power plants.”

A government spokesperson said: “This is not an either/or situation. As the
prime minister has said, nuclear will be a key part of our upcoming energy
security strategy alongside renewables. We are committed to scaling up our
nuclear electricity generation capacity, and building more nuclear power
here in the UK, as seen through the construction of Hinkley Point C – the
first new nuclear power station in a generation. Alongside this we’re
developing a GDF to support the decommissioning of the UK’s older nuclear

 Guardian 28th March 2022

Robots used to remove Fukushima’s highly radioactive used nuclear fuel, but they’re still problematic

April 30, 2022

Plutonium problems won’t go awayBy Chris Edwards, Engineering and Technology, February 15, 2022  ”’………………………………………At a conference organised by the International Federation of Robotics Research on the 10th anniversary of the accident, Toyota Research chief scientist Gill Pratt said the first robots “got there in the overhead luggage of commercial flights”. For all of them it was a baptism of fire.

Narrow staircases and rubble turned into insurmountable obstacles for some. Those that made it further failed after suffering too much radiation damage to key sensors and memories. Finally, some developed by the Chiba Institute of Technology were able to explore the upper floors of Reactor 2. The researchers designed their Quince to work for up to five hours in the presence of a cobalt-60 source that would generate an average dose of 40 grays per hour.

Direct radiation damage was not the only problem for the Fukushima robots. Reactors are protected by thick concrete walls. Wireless signals fade in and out and fibre-optic cabling becomes an impediment in the cluttered space of a damaged building.

To be close enough to the machines, operators had to wear bulky protective clothing that made teleoperation much harder than it would be in other environments. Several robots went into the building only to fail and get stuck, turning into obstacles for other machines.

The risk of these kinds of failure played into the nuclear industry’s long-term resistance to using robots for repair and decommissioning. Plant operators continued to favour mechanical manipulators operated by humans, separated by both protective clothing and thick lead-heavy glass.

Since Fukushima, attitudes to robots in the nuclear industry have changed, but remote control remains the main strategy. Pratt says humans remain generally better at control and are far better at dealing with the unstructured environments within many older and sometimes damaged installations.

The long-term aim of those working on these systems is to provide robots with greater degrees of autonomy over time. For example, surveillance drones will be flown with operator supervision but the machines are acquiring more intelligence to let them avoid obstacles so they need only respond to simpler, high-level commands. This can overcome one of the problems created by intermittent communications. One instance of this approach was shown when UK-based Createc Robotics recently deployed a drone at Chernobyl and Fukushima, choosing in the latter case to survey the partly collapsed turbine hall for a test of its semi-autonomous mapping techniques.

To get more robots into play in the UK, the NDA has focused its procurement more heavily on universities and smaller specialist companies, some of which are adapting technologies from the oil and gas industry.

The NDA expects it will take many years to develop effective robot decommissioning and handling technologies. It has put together a broad roadmap that currently extends to 2040. Radiation susceptibility remains an issue. Visual sensors are highly susceptible to damage by ionising radiation. However, a mixture of smarter control systems and redundancy should make it possible to at least move robots to a safe point for repair should they start to show signs of failure.

Another design strategy being pursued both in the UK and Japan is to build robots as though they are a moving, smart Swiss-army knife: armed with a variety of detachable limbs and subsystems so they can adapt to conditions and possibly even perform some on-the-fly repairs to themselves.

Slowly, the technology is appearing that can handle and at least put the waste out of harm’s way for a long time, though you might wonder why the process has taken decades to get to this stage of development. ……………. (Goes on to laser developments, again, far from a sure thing.)

France’s Nuclear Safety Authority considers abandoning the reprocessing of nuclear waste.

April 30, 2022

ASN is considering abandoning the reprocessing of nuclear waste, The director of the Nuclear Safety Authority ( ASN ) described on January 19 the “ fragilities of the fuel cycle and the nuclear fleet ”. It opened up the possibility of eventually stopping the reprocessing of spent fuel, a particularity of French industry.

For the first time, to the knowledge of Reporterre , a nuclear manager in France is openly considering the end of the reprocessing of spent fuel at La Hague (Manche). On Wednesday January 19, during his back-to-school video press conference, Bernard Doroszczuk, Director of the Nuclear Safety Authority ( ASN ), said that this option had to be considered: ” It will be necessary either to provide for the renovation of the installations current if reprocessing is continued ; or anticipate the implementation of alternative solutions for the management of spent fuel, which should be available by 2040, if reprocessing is stopped. »

For the first time, to the knowledge of Reporterre , a nuclear manager in France is openly considering the end of the reprocessing of spent fuel at La Hague (Manche). On Wednesday January 19, during his back-to-school video press conference, Bernard Doroszczuk, Director of the Nuclear Safety Authority ( ASN ), said that this option had to be considered: ” It will be necessary either to provide for the renovation of the installations current if reprocessing is continued ; or anticipate the implementation of alternative solutions for the management of spent fuel, which should be available by 2040, if reprocessing is stopped. »

 spent fuel, it has a whole series. Each poses a difficult management problem: plutonium (we can’t manage to use all the stock), minor actinides, reprocessed uranium, spent Mox, etc. By evoking the end of reprocessing, Mr. Doroszczuk therefore attacks a sacred cow of French nuclearists.
Why this new proposal  ? Because, explained the director of the ASN , ”  a series of events weakens the entire chain of the fuel cycle  ” and several of its links are clogged:

• the pool at the La Hague plant (Manche), in which the spent fuel is currently stored, is reaching saturation  point ;

• Orano’s Melox plant, in which part of the plutonium is recycled to make fuel, says Mox, works very poorly: “  We have too many breakdowns. Last year, we produced between 50 and 60 tonnes while the order book shows 120 tonnes per year ,   Régis Faure, spokesperson for the Orano Melox site , told Usine Nouvelle . Thus, the plutonium accumulates at the entrance, while at the exit, explained Mr. Doroszczuk, ”  these problems that Orano has not mastered lead to the disposal of waste that contains more plutonium than expected.  »  ;

• finally, revealed the director of the ASN , “  the faster-than-expected corrosion of the evaporators at the Orano La Hague plant weakens the reprocessing capacities   .

It therefore recommends anticipating the crisis, and either choosing to continue the reprocessing or to stop it. In both cases, this will involve very substantial investments, which we must think about now.

“  A nuclear accident is always possible  

More generally, the ASN director underlined “  the absolute need to maintain margins so that there is no competition between production needs and safety decisions  ” . Indeed, the nuclear situation is very tense, both currently, with ten reactors shut down, and in the future: it is not at all certain that the reactors will be able to operate beyond fifty years, indicated Mr Doroszczuk. And the sector lacks skills, both to manage the current fleet and its future dismantling and waste management: it would be necessary to “  train 4,000 engineers per year  ” . We are far from it.The director of the ASN of course wants to stay out of the political debate. But it is clear that the “  messages  ” he formulated on January 19 should be carefully listened to and understood by all presidential candidates who believe that nuclear power is the magic answer to climate change. He also repeated throughout his speech the requirement of security. ”  A nuclear accident is always possible ,  ” he said.

What future for small nuclear reactors?

April 30, 2022

Small nuclear reactor? It’s a lemon!

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects

In 2022, nuclear power’s future looks grimmer than ever, Jim Green, 11 Jan 2022, RenewEconomy

”……………………………………….. Small modular reactors

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are heavily promoted but construction projects are few and far between and have exhibited disastrous cost overruns and multi-year delays.

It should be noted that none of the projects discussed below meet the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production of reactor components, which could potentially drive down costs. Using that definition, no SMRs have ever been built and no country, company or utility is building the infrastructure for SMR construction.

In 2004, when the CAREM SMR in Argentina was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of A$1.4 billion / GW for an integrated 300 megawatt (MW) plant, while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”. Now, the cost estimate is more than 20 times greater at A$32.6 billion / GW. A little over A$1 billion for a reactor with a capacity of just 32 MW. The project is seven years behind schedule and costs will likely increase further.

Russia’s 70 MW floating nuclear power plant is said to be the only operating SMR anywhere in the world (although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production). The construction cost increased six-fold from 6 billion rubles to 37 billion rubles (A$688 million), equivalent to A$9.8 billion / GW. The construction project was nine years behind schedule.

According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, electricity produced by the Russian floating plant costs an estimated A$279 / MWh, with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure. The cost of electricity produced by the Russian plant exceeds costs from large reactors (A$182-284) even though SMRs are being promoted as the solution to the exorbitant costs of large nuclear plants.

SMRs are being promoted as important potential contributors to climate change abatement but the primary purpose of the Russian plant is to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic.

A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration 210 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is about A$7.0 billion / GW and that cost increases have arisen from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and project delays. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost is A$8.4 billion / GW. Those figures are 2-3 times higher than the A$2.8 billion / GW estimate in a 2009 paper by Tsinghua University researchers.

China’s HTGR was partially grid-connected in late-2021 and full connection will take place in early 2022.

China reportedly plans to upscale the HTGR design to 655 MW (three reactor modules feeding one turbine). China’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MW HTGR will be 15-20 percent higher than the cost of a conventional 600 MW pressurised water reactor.

NucNet reported in 2020 that China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp dropped plans to manufacture 20 additional HTGR units after levelised cost of electricity estimates rose to levels higher than a conventional pressurised water reactor such as China’s indigenous Hualong One. Likewise, the World Nuclear Association states that plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant have been “dropped”.

The World Nuclear Association lists just two other SMR construction projects other than those listed above. In July 2021, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) New Energy Corporation began construction of the 125 MW pressurised water reactor ACP100. According to CNNC, construction costs per kilowatt will be twice the cost of large reactors, and the levelised cost of electricity will be 50 percent higher than large reactors.

In June 2021, construction of the 300 MW demonstration lead-cooled BREST fast reactor began in Russia. In 2012, the estimated cost for the reactor and associated facilities was A$780 million, but the cost estimate has more than doubled and now stands at A$1.9 billion.

SMR hype

Much more could be said about the proliferation of SMRs in the ‘planning’ stage, and the accompanying hype. For example a recent review asserts that more than 30 demonstrations of ‘advanced’ reactor designs are in progress across the globe. In fact, few have progressed beyond the planning stage, and few will. Private-sector funding has been scant and taxpayer funding has generally been well short of that required for SMR construction projects to proceed.

Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage. Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects.

failed history of small reactor projects. A handful of recent construction projects, most subject to major cost overruns and multi-year delays. And the possibility of a small number of SMR construction projects over the next decade. Clearly the hype surrounding SMRs lacks justification.

Everything that is promising about SMRs belongs in the never-never; everything in the real-world is expensive and over-budget, slow and behind schedule. Moreover, there are disturbing, multifaceted connections between SMR projects and nuclear weapons proliferation, and between SMRs and fossil fuel mining.

SMRs for Australia

There is ongoing promotion of SMRs in Australia but a study by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated costs of A$225 / MWh for SMRs. The Minerals Council of Australia states that SMRs won’t find a market unless they can produce power at about one-third of that cost.

In its 2021 GenCost report, CSIRO provides these 2030 cost estimates:

* Nuclear (SMR): A$128-322 / MWh

* 90 percent wind and solar PV with integration costs (transmission, storage and synchronous condensers): A$55-80 / MWh

Enthusiasts hope that nuclear power’s cost competitiveness will improve, but in all likelihood it will continue to worsen. Alone among energy sources, nuclear power becomes more expensive over time, or in other words it has a negative learning curve.

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and the author of a recent report on nuclear power’s economic crisis.