Archive for the ‘REACTOR TYPES’ Category

Small and Medium Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) – cost estimates, and what they cost to build

April 7, 2019

SMR cost estimates, and costs of SMRs under construction, Nuclear Monitor Issue:  #872-873 4777 07/03/2019Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Costs of SMRs under construction construction costs for Russia’s floating nuclear power plant (with two 35-MW ice-breaker-type reactors) have increased more than four-fold and now equate to over US$10 billion / gigawatt (GW) (US$740 million / 70 MW).1 A 2016 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency report said that electricity produced by the plant is expected to cost about US$200/MWh, with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure.2

Little credible information is available on the cost of China’s demonstration 2×250 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR). If the demonstration reactor is completed and successfully operated, China reportedly plans to upscale the design to 655 MW (three modules feeding one turbine, total 655 MW) and to build these reactors in pairs with a total capacity of about 1,200 MW (so much for the small-is-beautiful SMR rhetoric). According to the World Nuclear Association, China’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MWe HTGR to be 15-20% more than the cost of a conventional 600 MWe PWR.3

A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration HTGR is about US$5,000/kW ‒ about twice the initial cost estimates.4 Cost increases have arisen from higher material and component costs, increases in labor costs, and increased costs associated with project delays.4 The World Nuclear Association states that the cost of the demonstration HTGR is US$6,000/kW.5

The CAREM (Central Argentina de Elementos Modulares) SMR under construction in Argentina illustrates the gap between SMR rhetoric and reality. Argentina’s Undersecretary of Nuclear Energy, Julián Gadano, said in 2016 that the world market for SMRs is in the tens of billions of dollars and that Argentina could capture 20% of the market with its CAREM technology.6 But cost estimates have ballooned: (more…)


The sorry history of small nuclear power reactors

April 7, 2019

Many of the expenses associated with constructing and operating a reactor do not change in linear proportion to the power generated. For instance, a 400 MW reactor requires less than twice the quantity of concrete and steel to construct as a 200 MW reactor, and it can be operated with fewer than twice as many people.

In the face of this prevailing wisdom, proponents of small reactors pinned their hopes on yet another popular commercial principle: “economies of mass production.”

In 1968, the same year Elk River shut down, the last of the AEC’s small reactors was connected to the grid: the 50 MW La Crosse boiling water reactor.19 That plant operated for 18 years; by the end, its electricity cost three times as much as that from the coal plant next door, according to a 2012 news account about the disposal of the plant’s spent fuel. Dealing with the irradiated uranium-thorium fuel proved difficult too. Eventually, the spent fuel was shipped to a reprocessing plant in southern Italy.

Since then, not a single small reactor has been commissioned in the United States.

Without exception, small reactors cost too much for the little electricity they produced, the result of both their low output and their poor performance.

The forgotten history of small nuclear reactors  Nuclear Monitor Issue: #872-873 4775 07/03/2019  M.V. Ramana ‒ Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia

Article  April 2015 ‒ A tantalizing proposition has taken hold again in the nuclear industry: that small nuclear reactors have economic and other advantages over the standard-size ones being built today. The idea is that by reducing the substantial financial risk of a full-scale nuclear project, small reactors are the best option for kick-starting a much-discussed revival of nuclear power……

the technology remains in stasis or decline throughout the Americas and Europe. …..

A fundamental reason for this decline is indeed economic. Compared with other types of electricity generation, nuclear power is expensive. (more…)

R.I.P. Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

April 7, 2019

An obituary for small modular reactors Jim Green, The Ecologist, 11 March 2019,

The nuclear industry is heavily promoting the idea of building small modular reactors (SMRs), with near-zero prospects for new large power reactors in many countries. These reactors would have a capacity of under 300 megawatts (MW), whereas large reactors typically have a capacity of 1,000 MW.

Construction at reactor sites would be replaced with standardised factory production of reactor components then installation at the reactor site, thereby driving down costs and improving quality control.

The emphasis in this article is on the questionable economics of SMRs, but a couple of striking features of the SMR universe should be mentioned (for details see the latest issue of Nuclear Monitor).

First, the enthusiasm for SMRs has little to do with climate-friendly environmentalism. About half of the SMRs under construction (Russia’s floating power plant, Russia’s RITM-200 icebreaker ships, and China’s ACPR50S demonstration reactor) are designed to facilitate access to fossil fuel resources in the Arctic, the South China Sea and elsewhere. Another example comes from Canada, where one application of SMRs under consideration is providing power and heat for the extraction of hydrocarbons from oil sands.

A second striking feature of the SMR universe is that it is deeply interconnected with militarism:

  • Argentina’s experience and expertise with small reactors derives from its historic weapons program, and its interest in SMRs is interconnected with its interest in small reactors for naval propulsion.
  • China’s interest in SMRs extends beyond fossil fuel mining and includes powering the construction and operation of artificial islands in its attempt to secure claim to a vast area of the South China Sea.
  • Saudi Arabia’s interest in SMRs is likely connected to its interest in developing nuclear weapons or a latent weapons capability.
  • A subsidiary of Holtec International has actively sought a military role, inviting the US National Nuclear Security Administration to consider the feasibility of using a proposed SMR to produce tritium, used to boost the explosive yield of nuclear weapons.
  • Proposals are under consideration in the US to build SMRs at military bases and perhaps even to use them to power forward operating bases.
  • In the UK, Rolls-Royce is promoting SMRs on the grounds that “a civil nuclear UK SMR programme would relieve the Ministry of Defence of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability”.

Independent economic assessments

SMRs will almost certainly be more expensive than large reactors (more precisely, construction costs will be lower but the electricity produced by SMRs will be more expensive).

They will inevitably suffer diseconomies of scale: a 250 MW SMR will generate 25 percent as much power as a 1,000 MW reactor, but it will require more than 25 percent of the material inputs and staffing, and a number of other costs including waste management and decommissioning will be proportionally higher.

It’s highly unlikely that potential savings arising from standardised factory production will make up for those diseconomies of scale.

William Von Hoene, senior vice president at Exelon, has expressed scepticism about SMRs: “Right now, the costs on the SMRs, in part because of the size and in part because of the security that’s associated with any nuclear plant, are prohibitive,” he said last year. “It’s possible that that would evolve over time, and we’re involved in looking at that technology. Right now they’re prohibitively expensive.”

Every independent economic assessment finds that electricity from SMRs will be more expensive than that from large reactors.

study by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the 2015/16 South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated costs of A$180‒184/MWh (US$127‒130) for large pressurised water reactors and boiling water reactors, compared to A$198‒225 (US$140‒159) for SMRs.

A 2015 report by the International Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency predicts that electricity costs from SMRs will typically be 50−100 percent higher than for current large reactors, although it holds out some hope that large volume factory production of SMRs could help reduce costs.

report by the consultancy firm Atkins for the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that electricity from the first SMR in the UK would be 30 percent more expensive than power from large reactors, because of diseconomies of scale and the costs of deploying first-of-a-kind technology.

An article by four current and former researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy, published in 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, considered options for the development of an SMR market in the US. They concluded that it would not be viable unless the industry received “several hundred billion dollars of direct and indirect subsidies” over the next several decades.

No market

SMR enthusiasts envisage a large SMR market emerging in the coming years. A frequently cited 2014 report by the UK National Nuclear Laboratory estimates 65‒85 gigawatts (GW) of installed SMR capacity by 2035, valued at £250‒400 billion.

But in truth there is no market for SMRs. Thomas Overton, associate editor of POWER magazine, wrote in 2014: “At the graveyard wherein resides the “nuclear renaissance” of the 2000s, a new occupant appears to be moving in: the small modular reactor (SMR) … Over the past year, the SMR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one.”

Let’s briefly return to the National Nuclear Laboratory’s estimate of 65‒85 GW of installed SMR capacity by 2035. It is implausible and stands in contrast to the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency’s estimate of <1 GW to 21 GW of SMR capacity by 2035. But even if the 65‒85 GW figure proved to be accurate, it would pale in comparison to renewable energy sources.

As of the of end of 2017, global renewable energy capacity was 2,195 GW including 178 GW of new capacity added in 2017. On current trends, even in the wildest dreams of SMR enthusiasts, SMR capacity would be roughly 50 times less than renewable capacity by 2035.

SMRs under construction

SMR projects won’t be immune from the major cost overruns that have crippled large reactor projects (such as the AP1000 projects in the US that bankrupted Westinghouse). Indeed cost overruns have already become the norm for SMR projects.

Estimated construction costs for Russia’s floating nuclear power plant (with two 35-MW ice-breaker-type reactors) have increased more than four-fold and now equate to over US$10 billion / GW (US$740 million / 70 MW). A 2016 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency report said that electricity produced by the Russian floating plant is expected to cost about US$200 per megawatt-hour (MWh), with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure.

The CAREM (Central Argentina de Elementos Modulares) SMR under construction in Argentina illustrates the gap between SMR rhetoric and reality. Cost estimates have ballooned. In 2004, when the CAREM reactor was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of US$1 billion / GW for an integrated 300 MW plant. When construction began in 2014, the estimated cost of the CAREM reactor was US$17.8 billion / GW (US$446 million for a 25-MW reactor). By April 2017, the cost estimate had increased to US$21.9 billion / GW (US$700 million with the capacity uprated from 25 MW to 32 MW). The CAREM project is years behind schedule and costs will likely increase further. In 2014, first fuel loading was expected in 2017 but completion is now anticipated in November 2021.

Little credible information is available on the cost of China’s demonstration high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR). If the 210 MW demonstration reactor is completed and successfully operated, China reportedly plans to upscale the design to 655 MW. According to the World Nuclear Association, China’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MW HTGR to be 15-20 percent more than the cost of a conventional 600 MW PWR. A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration HTGR is about twice the initial cost estimates, with increases due to higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and increased costs associated with project delays. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost of the demonstration HTGR is US$6,000/kW.

NuScale Power’s creative accounting

Cost estimates for planned SMRs are implausible. US company NuScale Power is targeting a cost of just US$65/MWh for its first plant. But a study by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, commissioned by the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated a cost of US$159/MWh based on the US NuScale SMR design. That’s 2.4 times higher than NuScale’s estimate.

A 2018 Lazard report estimates costs of US$112‒189/MWh for electricity from large nuclear plants. NuScale’s claim that its electricity will be 2‒3 times cheaper than large nuclear is implausible. And even if NuScale achieved costs of US$65/MWh, that would still be well above Lazard’s figures for wind power (US$29‒56) and utility-scale solar (US$36‒46).

Likewise, NuScale’s construction cost estimate of US$4.2 billion / GW is implausible. The latest estimate for the AP1000 reactors under construction in Georgia is US$17.4 billion / GW. NuScale wants us to believe that it will build SMRs at less than one-quarter of that cost, even though every independent assessment concludes that SMRs will be more expensive to build (per GW) than large reactors.

No-one wants to pay for SMRS

No company, utility, consortium or national government is seriously considering building the massive supply chain that is at the very essence of the concept of SMRs ‒ mass, modular factory construction. Yet without that supply chain, SMRs will be expensive curiosities.

In early 2019, Kevin Anderson, North American Project Director for Nuclear Energy Insider, said that there “is unprecedented growth in companies proposing design alternatives for the future of nuclear, but precious little progress in terms of market-ready solutions.”

Anderson argued that it is time to convince investors that the SMR sector is ready for scale-up financing but that it will not be easy: “Even for those sympathetic, the collapse of projects such as V.C Summer does little to convince financiers that this sector is mature and competent enough to deliver investable projects on time and at cost.”

A 2018 US Department of Energy report states that to make a “meaningful” impact, about US$10 billion of government subsidies would be needed to deploy 6 GW of SMR capacity by 2035. But there’s no indication or likelihood that the US government will subsidise the industry to that extent.

To date, the US government has offered US$452 million to support private-sector SMR projects, of which US$111 million was wasted on the mPower project that was abandoned in 2017.

The collapse of the mPower project was one of a growing number of setbacks for the industry in the US. Transatomic Power gave up on its molten salt reactor R&D last year. Westinghouse sharply reduced its investment in SMRs after failing to secure US government funding. MidAmerican Energy gave up on its plans for SMRs in Iowa after failing to secure legislation that would force rate-payers to part-pay construction costs. The MidAmerican story has a happy ending: the company has invested over US$10 billion in renewables in Iowa and is now working towards its vision “to generate renewable energy equal to 100 percent of its customers’ usage on an annual basis.”

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories has set the goal of siting a new demonstration SMR at its Chalk River site by 2026. But serious discussions about paying for a demonstration SMR ‒ let alone a fleet of SMRs ‒ have not yet begun. The Canadian SMR Roadmap website simply states: “Appropriate risk sharing among governments, power utilities and industry will be necessary for SMR demonstration and deployment in Canada.”

Companies seeking to pursue SMR projects in the UK are seeking several billion pounds from the government to build demonstration plants. But nothing like that amount of money has been made available. In 2018, the UK government agreed to provide £56 million towards the development and licensing of advanced modular reactor designs and £32 million towards advanced manufacturing research. An industry insider told the Guardian in 2017: “It’s a pretty half-hearted, incredibly British, not-quite-good-enough approach. Another industry source questioned the credibility of SMR developers: “Almost none of them have got more than a back of a fag packet design drawn with a felt tip.”

State-run SMR programs

State-run SMR programs ‒ such as those in Argentina, China, Russia, and South Korea ‒ might have a better chance of steady, significant funding, but to date the investments in SMRs have been minuscule compared to investments in other energy programs.

And again, wherever you look there’s nothing to justify the high hopes (and hype) of SMR enthusiasts. South Korea, for example, won’t build any of its domestically-designed SMART SMRs in South Korea (“this is not practical or economic” according to the World Nuclear Association). South Korea’s plan to export SMART technology to Saudi Arabia is problematic and may in any case be in trouble.

China and Argentina hope to develop a large export market for their high-temperature gas-cooled reactors and small pressurised water reactors, respectively, but so far all they can point to are partially-built demonstration reactors that have been subject to significant cost overruns and delays.

All of the above can be read as an obituary for SMRs. The likelihood that they will establish anything more than a small, niche market is vanishingly small.

Dr Jim Green is the lead author of a Nuclear Monitor report on small modular reactors, and national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia.

U.S. Congress needs to look hard at the rationale for a fast reactor program.

April 7, 2019

Are Washington’s ‘Advanced’ Reactors a Nuclear Waste?
Congress needs to look hard at the rationale for a fast reactor program., 
by Victor Gilinsky Henry Sokolski

Late last year, the Energy Department (DOE), began work on a new flagship nuclear project, the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), a sodium-cooled fast reactor. If completed, the project will dominate nuclear power research at DOE. The department’s objective is to provide the groundwork for building lots of fast-power reactors. This was a dream of the old Atomic Energy Commission, DOE’s predecessor agency. The dream is back. But before this goes any further, Congress needs to ask, what is the question to which the VTR is the answer? It won’t be cheap and there are some serious drawbacks in cost, safety, but mainly in its effect on nonproliferation.

Congress has to ask hard questions: Is there an economic advantage to such reactors? Or one in safety? Or is it just what nuclear engineers, national laboratories, and subsidy-hungry firms would like to do?

The answer of DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, which would operate the reactor, is cast in terms of engineering and patriotic goals, not economic ones: “US technological leadership in the area of fast reactor systems . . . is critical for our national security. These systems are likely to be deployed around the globe and U.S. leadership in associated safety and security policies is in our best national interest.” In other words, we need to build fast reactors because DOE thinks other people will be building them, and we need to stay ahead.

In the 1960s, when the Atomic Energy Commission concentrated on fast reactors (“fast” because they don’t use a moderator to slow down neutrons in the reactor core), it argued with a certain plausibility that uranium ore was too scarce to provide fuel for large numbers of conventional light-water reactors that “burned” only a couple percent of their uranium fuel. Fast reactors offered the possibility, at least in principle, of using essentially all of the mined uranium as fuel, and thus vastly expanding the fuel supply. To do this you operate them as breeder reactors—making more fuel (that is, using excess neutrons available in fast reactors to convert inert uranium to plutonium) than they consume to produce energy. The possibility of doing so is the principal advantage of fast reactors.

But we then learned there are vast deposits of uranium worldwide, and at the same time many fewer nuclear reactors were installed than were originally projected, so there is no foreseeable fuel shortage. Not only that, the reprocessing of fuel, which is intrinsic to fast reactor operation, has turned out to be vastly more expensive than projected. Finally, by all accounts fast reactors would be more expensive to build than conventional ones, the cost of which is already out of sight. In short, there is no economic argument for building fast reactors.

When it comes to safety, sodium-cooled fast reactors operate under low pressure, which is an advantage. But fast reactors are worrisome because, whereas a change in the configuration of a conventional nuclear core—say, squeezing it tighter—makes it less reactive, the corresponding result in a fast reactor is to make it more reactive, potentially leading to an uncontrolled chain reaction.

With regard to nonproliferation, the issue that mainly concerns us is that the fast reactor fuel cycle depends on reprocessing and recycling of its plutonium fuel (or uranium 233 if using thorium instead of uranium). Both plutonium and uranium 233 are nuclear explosives. Widespread use of fast reactors for electricity generation implies large quantities of nuclear explosives moving through commercial channels. It will not be possible to restrict such use to a small number of countries. The consequent proliferation dangers are obvious. And while it is doubtful the U.S. fast reactor project will lead to commercial exploitation—few, if any, projects from DOE ever do—U.S. pursuit of this technology would encourage other countries interested in this technology, like Japan and South Korea, to do so.

One should add that one of the claims of enthusiasts for recycling spent fuel in fast reactors is that it permits simpler waste management. This is a complicated issue, but the short answer is that rather than simplifying, reprocessing and recycling complicate the waste disposal process.

With all these concerns, and the lack of a valid economic benefit, why does the Energy Department want to start an “aggressive” and expensive program of fast reactor development? It’s true that so far only exploratory contracts have been let, on the order of millions of dollars (to GE-Hitachi). But the Department is already leaning awfully far forward in pursuing the VTR. It estimates the total cost to be about $2 billion, but that’s in DOE-speak. We’ve learned that translates into several times that amount.

But beyond that, the nuclear engineering community, and the wider community of nuclear enthusiasts, have never given up the 1960s AEC dream of a fast breeder-driven, plutonium-fueled world. Such reactors were to have been deployed by 1980 and were to take over electricity generation by 2000. It didn’t even get off the ground, in part because of AEC managerial incompetence, but mainly because it didn’t make sense.

After the 1974 Indian nuclear explosion and the realization that any country with a small reactor and a way to separate a few kilograms of plutonium could make a bomb, proliferation became a serious issue. In 1976 President Gerald Ford announced that we should not rely on plutonium until the world could reliably control its dangers as a bomb material. The plutonium devotees never accepted this change. Jimmy Carter froze construction of an ongoing fast-breeder prototype, the Clinch River Reactor, about three time the size of the proposed VTR. Ronald Reagan tried to revive it but, as its rationale thinned and its cost mounted, Congress shut it down in 1983. The plutonium enthusiasts thought they got their chance under George W. Bush with a fast reactor and a reprocessing and recycling program under of the rubric of Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. But it was so poorly thought out it didn’t go anywhere. More or less the same laboratory participants are now pushing the VTR.

The DOE advanced reactor program has many irons in the fire, mostly in the small reactor category. But do not be misled. They are mostly small potatoes without much future. Only the fast reactor project is the real thing, bureaucratically, that is. Although at this point DOE has only contracted for conceptual design, the follow-up will cost many millions and take many years. Nothing attracts national laboratories, industrial firms, and Washington bureaucracies as much as the possibility of locking into a large multiyear source of funding.

Congress needs to look hard at the rationale for a fast reactor program. This means getting into the details. At a Senate Appropriations hearing last month on advanced reactors, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said rather plaintively, “We cast the votes, and cross our fingers hoping nothing bad will happen.” That’s not good enough.

Victor Gilinsky is program advisor for the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) in Arlington, Virginia. He served on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. Henry Sokolski is executive director of NPEC and the author of Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future (second edition 2019). He served as deputy for nonproliferation policy in the office of the U.S. secretary of defense in the Cheney Pentagon.

Thorium Molten Salt Nuclear reactor (MSR) No Better Than Uranium Process

November 3, 2018

The safety issue is also not resolved, as stated above: pressurized water leaking from the steam generator into the hot, radioactive molten salt will explosively turn to steam and cause incredible damage.  The chances are great that the radioactive molten salt would be discharged out of the reactor system and create more than havoc.  Finally, controlling the reaction and power output, finding materials that last safely for 3 or 4 decades, and consuming vast quantities of cooling water are all serious problems.  

The greatest problem, though, is likely the scale-up by a factor of 500 to 1, from the tiny project at ORNL to a full-scale commercial plant with 3500 MWth output.   Perhaps these technical problems can be overcome, but why would anyone bother to try, knowing in advance that the MSR plant will be uneconomic due to huge construction costs and operating costs, plus will explode and rain radioactive molten salt when (not if) the steam generator tubes leak.

The Truth About Nuclear Power – Part 28, Sowells Law Blog , 14 July 2014 Thorium MSR No Better Than Uranium Process, 

Preface   This article, number 28 in the series, discusses nuclear power via a thorium molten-salt reactor (MSR) process.   (Note, this is also sometimes referred to as LFTR, for Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor)   The thorium MSR is frequently trotted out by nuclear power advocates, whenever the numerous drawbacks to uranium fission reactors are mentioned.   To this point in the TANP series, uranium fission, via PWR or BWR, has been the focus.  Some critics of TANP have already stated that thorium solves all of those problems and therefore should be vigorously pursued.  Some of the critics have stated that Sowell obviously has never heard of thorium reactors.   Quite the contrary, I am familiar with the process and have serious reservations about the numerous problems with thorium MSR.

It is interesting, though, that nuclear advocates must bring up the MSR process.  If the uranium fission process was any good at all, there would be no need for research and development of any other type of process, such as MSR and fusion. (more…)

Debunking the claims about generation IV nuclear waste

November 3, 2018

Generation IV nuclear waste claims debunked, Nuclear Monitor 24 Sept 18   Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane have written an important article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists debunking claims that certain Generation IV reactor concepts promise major advantages with respect to nuclear waste management. Krall is a post-doctoral fellow at the George Washington University. Macfarlane is a professor at the same university, a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission from July 2012 to December 2014, and a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future from 2010 to 2012.

Krall and Macfarlane focus on molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors, and draw on the experiences of the US Experimental Breeder Reactor II and the US Molten Salt Reactor Experiment.

The article abstract notes that Generation IV developers and advocates “are receiving substantial funding on the pretense that extraordinary waste management benefits can be reaped through adoption of these technologies” yet “molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors – due to the unusual chemical compositions of their fuels – will actually exacerbate spent fuel storage and disposal issues.”

Here is the concluding section of the article:

“The core propositions of non-traditional reactor

proponents – improved economics, proliferation resistance,

safety margins, and waste management – should be

re-evaluated. The metrics used to support the waste

management claims – i.e. reduced actinide mass and total

radiotoxicity beyond 300 years – are insufficient to critically

assess the short- and long-term safety, economics, and

proliferation resistance of the proposed fuel cycles.

“Furthermore, the promised (albeit irrelevant) actinide

reductions are only attainable given exceptional

technological requirements, including commercial-scale

spent fuel treatment, reprocessing, and conditioning

facilities. These will create low- and intermediate-level

waste streams destined for geologic disposal, in addition

to the intrinsic high-level fission product waste that will

also require conditioning and disposal.


“Before construction of non-traditional reactors begins,

the economic implications of the back end of these nontraditional

fuel cycles must be analyzed in detail; disposal

costs may be unpalatable. The reprocessing/treatment

and conditioning of the spent fuel will entail costs, as will

storage and transportation of the chemically reactive fuels.

These are in addition to the cost of managing high-activity

operational wastes, e.g. those originating from molten

salt reactor filter systems. Finally, decommissioning the

reactors and processing their chemically reactive coolants

represents a substantial undertaking and another source

of non-traditional waste. …

“Issues of spent fuel management (beyond temporary

storage in cooling pools, aka “wet storage”) fall outside

the scope of the NRC’s reactor design certification

process, which is regularly denounced by nuclear

advocates as narrowly applicable to light water reactor

technology and insufficiently responsive to new reactor

designs. Nevertheless, new reactor licensing is contingent

on broader policies, including the Nuclear Waste Policy

Act and the Continued Storage Rule. Those policies are

based on the results of radionuclide dispersion models

described in environmental impact statements. But the

fuel and barrier degradation mechanisms tested in these

models were specific to oxide-based spent fuels, which

are inert, compared to the compounds that non-traditional

reactors will discharge.


“The Continued Storage Rule explicitly excludes most

non-oxide fuels, including those from sodium-cooled fast

reactors, from the environmental impact statement. Clearly,

storage and disposal of non-oxide commercial fuels should

require updated assessments and adjudication.

“Finally, treatment of spent fuels from non-traditional

reactors, which by Energy Department precedent is

only feasible through their respective (re)processing

technologies, raises concerns over proliferation and fissile

material diversion. Pyroprocessing and fluoride volatilityreductive

extraction systems optimized for spent fuel

treatment can – through minor changes to the chemical

conditions – also extract plutonium (or uranium 233 bred

from thorium). Separation from lethal fission products

would eliminate the radiological barriers protecting the

fuel from intruders seeking to obtain and purify fissile

material. Accordingly, cost and risk assessments of

predisposal spent fuel treatments must also account for

proliferation safeguards.


“Radioactive waste cannot be “burned”; fission of

actinides, the source of nuclear heat, inevitably generates

fission products. Since some of these will be radiotoxic

for thousands of years, these high-level wastes should

be disposed of in stable waste forms and geologic

repositories. But the waste estimates propagated by

nuclear advocates account only for the bare mass of

fission products, rather than that of the conditioned waste

form and associated repository requirements.

“These estimates further assume that the efficiency

of actinide fission will surge, but this actually relies on

several rounds of recycling using immature reprocessing

technologies. The low- and intermediate-level wastes

that will be generated by these activities will also be

destined for geologic disposal but have been neglected

in the waste estimates. More important, reprocessing

remains a security liability of dubious economic benefit,

so the apparent need to adopt these technologies simply

to prepare non-traditional spent fuels for storage and

disposal is a major disadvantage relative to light water

reactors. Theoretical burnups for fast and molten salt

reactors are too low to justify the inflated back-end costs

and risks, the latter of which may include a commercial

path to proliferation.


“Reductions in spent fuel volume, longevity, and total

radiotoxicity may be realized by breeding and burning

fissile material in non-traditional reactors. But those

relatively small reductions are of little value in repository

planning, so utilization of these metrics is misleading to

policy-makers and the general public. We urge policymakers

to critically assess non-traditional fuel cycles,

including the feasibility of managing their unusual waste

streams, any loopholes that could commit the American

public to financing quasi-reprocessing operations, and

the motivation to rapidly deploy these technologies. If

decarbonization of the economy by 2050 is the end-goal,

a more pragmatic path to success involves improvements

to light water reactor technologies, adoption of Blue

Ribbon Commission recommendations on spent fuel

management, and strong incentives for commercially

mature, carbon-free energy technologies.”

Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane, 2018, ‘Burning

waste or playing with fire? Waste management

considerations for non-traditional reactors’, Bulletin of the

Atomic Scientists, 74:5, pp.326-334, https://tandfonline.


Molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors make the radioactive waste problem WORSE

October 9, 2018
Burning waste or playing with fire? Waste management considerations for non-traditional reactors, Lindsay Krall &Allison Macfarlane, 31 Aug 18


Nuclear energy-producing nations are almost universally experiencing delays in the commissioning of the geologic repositories needed for the long-term isolation of spent fuel and other high-level wastes from the human environment. Despite these problems, expert panels have repeatedly determined that geologic disposal is necessary, regardless of whether advanced reactors to support a “closed” nuclear fuel cycle become available. Still, advanced reactor developers are receiving substantial funding on the pretense that extraordinary waste management benefits can be reaped through adoption of these technologies. 

Here, the authors describe why molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors – due to the unusual chemical compositions of their fuels – will actually exacerbate spent fuel storage and disposal issues. Before these reactors are licensed, policymakers must determine the implications of metal- and salt-based fuels vis a vis the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the Continued Storage Rule.

Terra Power’s Traveling Wave Nuclear Reactor sounds great – BUT!

October 9, 2018

TerraPower’s Nuclear Reactor Could Power the 21st Century. The traveling-wave reactor and other advanced reactor designs could solve our fossil fuel dependency IEEE Spectrum, By Michael Koziol  3 June 18,    “….  ..In a world defined by climate change, many experts hope that the electricity grid of the future will be powered entirely by solar, wind, and hydropower. Yet few expect that clean energy grid to manifest soon enough to bring about significant cuts in greenhouse gases within the next few decades. Solar- and wind-generated electricity are growing faster than any other category; nevertheless, together they accounted for less than 2 percent of the world’s primary energy consumption in 2015, according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

Vain hopes for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) – expensive and there are no customers anyway

April 2, 2018

Small Modular Reactors for Nuclear Power: Hope or Mirage?   by M.V. Ramana 

Supporters of nuclear power hope that small nuclear reactors, unlike large  plants, will be able to compete economically with other sources of electricity. But according to M.V. Ramana, a Professor at the University of British Columbia, this is likely to be a vain hope. In fact, according to Ramana, in the absence of a mass market, they may be even more expensive than large plants.

In October 2017, just after Puerto Rico was battered by Hurricane Maria, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry asked the audience at a conference on clean energy
in Washington, D.C.: “Wouldn’t it make abundant good sense if we had small modular reactors that literally you could put in the back of a C-17, transport to an area like Puerto Rico, push it out the back end, crank it up and plug it in? … It could serve hundreds of thousands”.

As exemplified by Secretary Perry’s remarks, small modular reactors (SMRs) have been suggested as a way to supply electricity for communities that inhabit islands or in other remote locations.

In the past decade, wind and solar energy have become significantly cheaper than nuclear power

More generally, many nuclear advocates have suggested that SMRs can deal with all the problems confronting nuclear power, including unfavorable economics, risk of severe accidents, disposing of radioactive waste and the linkage with weapons proliferation. Of these, the key problem responsible for the present status of nuclear energy has been its inability to compete economically with other sources of electricity. As a result, the share of global electricity generated by nuclear power has dropped from 17.5% in 1996 to 10.5% in 2016 and is expected to continue falling.

Still expensive

The inability of nuclear power to compete economically results from two related problems. The first problem is that building a nuclear reactor requires high levels of capital, well beyond the financial capacity of a typical electricity utility, or a small country. This is less difficult for state- owned entities in large countries like China and India, but it does limit how much nuclear power even they can install.

The second problem is that, largely because of high construction costs, nuclear energy is expensive. Electricity from fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, has been cheaper historically ‒ especially when costs of natural gas have been low, and no price is imposed on carbon. But, in the past decade, wind and solar energy, which do not emit carbon dioxide either, have become significantly cheaper than nuclear power. As a result, installed renewables have grown tremendously, in drastic contrast to nuclear energy.

How are SMRs supposed to change this picture? As
the name suggests, SMRs produce smaller amounts of electricity compared to currently common nuclear power reactors. A smaller reactor is expected to cost less to
build. This allows, in principle, smaller private utilities and countries with smaller GDPs to invest in nuclear power. While this may help deal with the first problem, it actually worsens the second problem because small reactors lose out on economies of scale. Larger reactors are cheaper
on a per megawatt basis because their material and work requirements do not scale linearly with generation capacity.

“The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment ‒ it’s that there’s no customers”

SMR proponents argue that they can make up for the lost economies of scale by savings through mass manufacture in factories and resultant learning. But, to achieve such savings, these reactors have to be manufactured by the thousands, even under very optimistic assumptions about rates of learning. Rates of learning in nuclear power plant manufacturing have been extremely low; indeed, in both the United States and France, the two countries with the highest number of nuclear plants, costs rose with construction experience.

Ahead of the market

For high learning rates to be achieved, there must 
be a standardized reactor built in large quantities. Currently dozens of SMR designs are at various stages of development; it is very unlikely that one, or even a few designs, will be chosen by different countries and private entities, discarding the vast majority of designs that are currently being invested in. All of these unlikely occurrences must materialize if small reactors are to become competitive with large nuclear power plants, which are themselves not competitive.

There is a further hurdle to be overcome before these large numbers of SMRs can be built. For a company to invest
in a factory to manufacture reactors, it would have to be confident that there is a market for them. This has not been the case and hence no company has invested large sums of its own money to commercialize SMRs.

An example is the Westinghouse Electric Company, which worked on two SMR designs, and tried to get funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE). When it failed in that effort, Westinghouse stopped working on SMRs and decided to focus its efforts on marketing the AP1000 reactor and the decommissioning business. Explaining this decision, Danny Roderick, then president and CEO of Westinghouse, announced: “The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment ‒ it’s that there’s no customers. … The worst thing to do is get ahead of the market”.

Delayed commercialization

Given this state of affairs, it should not be surprising that
 no SMR has been commercialized. Timelines have been routinely set back. In 2001, for example, a DOE report on prevalent SMR designs concluded that “the most technically mature small modular reactor (SMR) designs and concepts have the potential to be economical and could be made available for deployment before the end of the decade provided that certain technical and licensing issues are addressed”. Nothing of that sort happened; there is no SMR design available for deployment in the United States so far.

There are simply not enough remote communities, with adequate purchasing capacity, to be able to make it financially viable to manufacture SMRs by the thousands

Similar delays have been experienced in other countries too. In Russia, the first SMR that is expected to be deployed is the KLT-40S, which is based on the design of reactors used in the small fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers that Russia has operated for decades. This programme, too, has been delayed by more than a decade and the estimated costs have ballooned.

South Korea even licensed an SMR for construction in
2012 but no utility has been interested in constructing one, most likely because of the realization that the reactor is too expensive on a per-unit generating-capacity basis. Even the World Nuclear Association stated: “KAERI planned to build a 90 MWe demonstration plant to operate from 2017, but this is not practical or economic in South Korea” (my emphasis).

Likewise, China is building one twin-reactor high- temperature demonstration SMR and some SMR feasibility studies are underway, but plans for 18 additional SMRs have been “dropped” according to the World Nuclear Association, in part because the estimated cost of generating electricity is significantly higher than the generation cost at standard-sized light-water reactors.

No real market demand

On the demand side, many developing countries claim to be interested in SMRs but few seem to be willing to invest in the construction of one. Although many agreements and memoranda of understanding have been signed, there are still no plans for actual construction. Good examples are the cases of Jordan, Ghana and Indonesia, all of which have been touted as promising markets for SMRs, but none of which are buying one.

Neither nuclear reactor companies, 
nor any governments that back nuclear power, are willing to spend the hundreds of millions, if not a few billions, of dollars to set up SMRs just so that these small and remote communities will have nuclear electricity

Another potential market that is often proffered as a reason for developing SMRs is small and remote communities. There again, the problem is one of numbers. There are simply not enough remote communities, with adequate purchasing capacity, to be able to make it financially viable to manufacture SMRs by the thousands so as to make them competitive with large reactors, let alone other sources of power. Neither nuclear reactor companies, 
nor any governments that back nuclear power, are willing to spend the hundreds of millions, if not a few billions, of dollars to set up SMRs just so that these small and remote communities will have nuclear electricity.

Meanwhile, other sources of electricity supply, in particular combinations of renewables and storage technologies such as batteries, are fast becoming cheaper. It is likely that they will become cheap enough to produce reliable and affordable electricity, even for these remote and small communities ‒ never mind larger, grid- connected areas ‒ well before SMRs are deployable, let alone economically competitive.

Editor’s note:

Prof. M. V. Ramana is Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, as part of the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.  This article was first published in National University of Singapore Energy Studies Institute Bulletin, Vol.10, Issue 6, Dec. 2017, and is republished here with permission.

Some of the problems with thorium nuclear reactors

April 2, 2018

Disadvantages of thorium reactors:  High start-up costs: Huge investments are needed for thorium nuclear power reactor, as it requires significant amount of testing, analysis and licensing work. Also, there is uncertainty over returns on the investments in these reactors. For utilities, this factor can weigh on the decisions to go ahead with plans to deploy the reactors. The reactors also involve high fuel fabrication and reprocessing costs.

High melting point of thorium oxide: As melting point of thorium oxide is much higher compared to that of uranium oxide, high temperatures are needed to make high density ThO2 and ThO2–based mixed oxide fuels. The fuel in nuclear fission reactors is usually based on the metal oxide.

Emission of gamma rays: Presence of Uranium-232 in irradiated thorium or thorium based fuels in large amounts is one of the major disadvantages of thorium nuclear power reactors. It can result in significant emissions of gamma rays.