Archive for the ‘Small Modular Nuclear Reactors’ 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   https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/872-873/smr-cost-estimates-and-costs-smrs-under-construction?fbclid=IwAR1TQA0xJ4bYxnVxJ0Aulcxvp0miMhEP4Vt8YqvLQKrhI3lTDhnrzZxQCE8Estimated 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…)

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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,https://theecologist.org/2019/mar/11/obituary-small-modular-reactors

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.

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? https://www.theenergycollective.com/m-v-ramana/2426847/small-modular-reactors-nuclear-power-hope-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.

The fantasy of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors for outback Australia

April 2, 2018

Volunteers wanted – to house small modular nuclear reactors in Australia,Online Opinion, Noel WAuchope , 11 Dec 17, 

We knew that the Australian government was looking for volunteers in outback South Australia, to take the radioactive trash from Lucas Heights and some other sites, (and not having an easy time of it). But oh dear– we had no idea that the search for hosting new (untested) nuclear reactors was on too!

Well, The Australian newspaper has just revealed this extraordinary news, in its article “Want a nuclear reactor in your backyard? Step this way” (28/11/17). Yes, it turns out that a Sydney-based company, SMR Nuclear Technology, plans to secure volunteers and a definite site within three years. If all goes well, Australia’s Small Modular Reactors will be in operation by 2030.

Only, there are obstacles. Even this enthusiastic article does acknowledge one or two of them. One is the need to get public acceptance of these so far non-existent new nuclear reactors. SMR director Robert Pritchard is quoted as saying that interest in these reactors is widespread. He gives no evidence for this.

The other is that the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant in Australia is prohibited by both commonwealth and state laws.

But there are issues, and other obstacles that are not addressed on this article. A vital question is: does SMR Nuclear Technology intend to actually build the small reactors in Australia, or more likely, merely assemble them from imported modular parts – a sort of nuclear Lego style operation?

If it is to be the latter, there will surely be a delay of probably decades. Development of SMRs is stalled, in USA due to strict safety regulations, and in UK, due to uncertainties, especially the need for public subsidy. That leaves China, where the nuclear industry is government funded, and even there, development of SMRs is still in its infancy.

As to the former, it is highly improbable that an Australian company would have the necessary expertise, resources, and funding, to design and manufacture nuclear reactors of any size. The overseas companies now planning small reactors are basing their whole enterprise on the export market. Indeed, the whole plan for “modular” nuclear reactors is about mass production and mass marketing of SMRs -to be assembled in overseas countries. That is accepted as the only way for the SMR industry to be commercially successful. Australia looks like a desirable customer for the Chinese industry, the only one that looks as if it might go ahead, at present,

If, somehow, the SMR Technologies’ plan is to go ahead, the other obstacles remain.

The critical one is of course economics. …….

Other issues of costs and safety concern the transport of radioactive fuels to the reactors, and of radioactive waste management. The nuclear industry is very fond of proclaiming that wastes from small thorium reactors would need safe disposal and guarding for “only 300 years”. Just the bare 300!

The Australian Senate is currently debating a Bill introduced by Cory Bernardi, to remove Australia’s laws prohibiting nuclear power development. The case put by SMR Technologies, as presented in The Australian newspaper is completely inadequate. The public deserves a better examination of this plan for Small Modular Reactors SMRS. And why do they leave out the operative word “Nuclear” -because it is so on the nose with the public? http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=19460&page=2

Edwin Lyman on Small Modular Reactors

November 29, 2017

Small Isn’t Always Beautiful Safety, Security, and Cost Concerns about Small Modular Reactors

UCS, Edwin Lyman September 2013

“…….Less expensive does not necessarily mean cost effective, however. The safety of the proposed compact designs is unproven—for instance, most of the designs call for weaker containment structures. And the arguments in favor of lower overall costs for SMRs depend on convincing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to relax existing safety regulations………

Congress should direct the Department of Energy (DOE) to spend taxpayer money only on support of technologies that have the potential to provide significantly greater levels of safety and security than currently operating reactors. The DOE should not be promoting the idea that SMRs do not require 10-mile emergency planning zones—nor should it be encouraging the NRC to weaken its other requirements just to facilitate SMR licensing and deployment………

“Small” is defined by the DOE as one that generates less than 300 MWe (megawatts of electric power), which is about 30 percent of the capacity of a typical current commercialpower reactor. “Modular” refers to the concept that the units would be small enough to be manufactured in factories and shipped to reactor sites as needed to meet incremental increases in demand (Smith-Kevern)……….

… greater levels of nuclear plant safety and security cannot be achieved by smart design alone. It must also extend to operation. Without an overarching regulatory framework focused on substantially increasing the level of operational safety, there will be no assurance of greater safety for next-generation reactors either large or small…….

“Affordable” doesn’t necessarily mean “cost-effective.”…….

.. far from increasing design and operational safety standards, proponents of SMRs claim small modular reactors will be so much safer than large reactors that they will not need to meet the same safety standards as large reactors, arguing that they need far fewer operators and security officers, and that they can have disproportionately smaller and weaker containment buildings. SMR advocates claim that they are so safe they can be located close to densely populated areas without the need for extensive evacuation planning. This argument is a crucial part of the case being made by the DOE and others that SMRs can be deployed to replace coal plants at existing sites, many of which are near urban areas. We consider each of those issues below.

“affordable” doesn’t necessarily mean “cost-effective.” According to basic economic principles, the cost per kilowatt-hour of the electricity produced by a small reactor will be higher than that of a large reactor, all other factors being equal. That is because SMRs are penalized by the economies of scale of larger reactors—a principle that drove the past industry trend to build larger and larger plants (Shropshire). For example, a 1,100 MWe plant would cost only about three times as much to build as a 180 MWe version, but would generate six times the power, so the capital cost per kilowatt would be twice as great for the smaller plant (see, e.g., the economies of scale formula used by Carelli et al.)

SMR proponents argue that other factors could offset this difference, effectively reversing the economies of scale. For example, efficiencies associated with the economics of mass production could lower costs if SMRs are eventually built and sold in large numbers. Such factors are speculative at this point, however, and the degree to which they might reduce costs has not been well characterized. A 2011 study found that even taking into account all the factors that could offset economies of scale, replacement of one 1,340 MWe reactor with four 335 MWe units would still increase the capital cost by 5 percent (Shropshire).

The potential cost benefits of assembly-line module construction relative to custom-built on-site construction may also be overstated. Moreover, mistakes on a production line can lead to generic defects that could propagate through an entire fleet of reactors and be costly to fix. The experience to date with construction of modular parts for the nuclear industry has been troubling……..

….Unless the negative economies of scale can be overcome, SMRs could well become affordable luxuries: more utilities may be in a financial position to buy an SMR without “betting the farm,” but still lose money by producing high-cost electricity. In any event, it would take many years of industrial experience, and the production of many units, before the potential for manufacturing cost savings could be demonstrated. In the meantime, as the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s SMR subcommittee stated in a November 2012 report, “first of a kind costs in U.S. practice will likely make the early [SMR] units considerably more expensive than alternative sources of power. If the U.S. is to create a potential SMR market for US vendors, it will need to do something to help out with such costs” (SEAB). The report pointed out that if the government decided to provide such help, it would have a “panoply of direct and indirect tools available to support the development of an SMR industry” ranging from “funding SMR demonstration plants, perhaps on U.S. government sites (the DOE is a particularly large user of electricity) to a variety of financial incentives” including “continued cost sharing with selected SMR vendors beyond design certification,” “loan guarantees,” and “production tax credits or feed-in tariffs for those utility generators that are early users of SMR power purchase contracts.”…….

DOE officials have referred to this situation as a “Catch-22.” The economics of mass production of SMRs cannot be proven until hundreds of units have been produced. But that can’t happen unless there are hundreds of orders, and there will be few takers unless the price can be brought down. This is why the industry believes significant government assistance would be needed to get an SMR industry off the ground.

In addition, there appears to be a growing realization that the first SMR production factory cannot fill its order book with domestic units but will need to access a sizable international export market………

In addition to imposing a penalty on the capital cost of SMRs, economies of scale would also negatively affect operations and maintenance (O&M) costs (excluding costs for nuclear fuel, which scale proportionately with capacity). Labor costs are a significant fraction of nuclear plant O&M costs, and they do not typically scale linearly with the capacity of the plant: after all, a minimum number of personnel are required to maintain safety and security regardless of the size……..

SMR vendors are pressuring the NRC to weaken regulatory requirements for SMRs……. . Unless utilities can find a way to justify significantly reducing personnel for smaller reactors, SMRs will need a larger number of workers to generate a kilowatt of electricity than large reactors. Yet a 2011 study of 50 small and medium-sized reactors in Europe concluded that O&M costs must be kept consistently “low”—defined as less than 20 percent of total costs—to maintain SMR cost competitiveness (Shropshire). To reduce both capital costs and O&M costs, SMR vendors are pressuring the NRC to weaken certain regulatory requirements for SMRs……..

SMR Designs……….

NuScale. The NuScale concept is considerably different from both the mPower SMR design as well as from the current fleet of large nuclear reactors. The NuScale design envisions an array of up to 12 reactor modules, each generating 45 MWe of power, submerged under water in a swimming-pool-like structure. Each module would be 65 feet tall and nine feet in diameter, and would be nested within a very small containment structure 82 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter. Unlike the mPower design, the NuScale control rod drive mechanisms would be external to the vessel. Only natural convection cooling of the core would be used both for routine operation and for emergencies: there would be no coolant pumps at all in the primary reactor coolant system (the primary cooling system carries heat from the core to the steam generators). The secondary loop, the system that carries steam from the steam generators to the turbines, would still require motor-driven pumps. NuScale differs from other pressurized water reactors in that the primary coolant is not pumped through the steam generators, but flows around outside of them. The secondary coolant is pumped through the steam generator coils. The designers claim that emergency cooling could be maintained indefinitely in a station blackout by relying on a series of valves that do not require electrical power to open or close and achieve their correct positions (Neve).

Holtec SMR-160. The Holtec SMR-160 will generate 160 MWe. Like the NuScale, it is designed for passive cooling of the primary system during both normal and accident conditions. However, the modules would be much taller than the NuScale modules and would not be submerged in a pool of water. Each reactor vessel would be located deep underground, with a large inventory of water above it that could be used to provide a passive heat sink for cooling the core in the event of an accident. Each containment building would be surrounded by an additional enclosure for safety, and the space between the two structures would be filled with water. Unlike the other iPWRs, the SMR-160 steam generators are not internal to the reactor vessel. The reactor system is tall and narrow to maximize the rate of natural convective flow, which is low in other passive designs. Holtec has not made precise dimensions available, but the reactor vessel is approximately 100 feet tall, and the aboveground portion of the containment is about 100 feet tall and 50 feet in diameter (Singh 2013)

For these and other SMRs, it is important to note that only limited information is available about the design, as well as about safety and security. A vast amount of information is considered commercially sensitive or security-related and is being withheld from the public. ……

SMR Safety In general, the engineering challenges of ensuring safety in small modular reactors are not qualitatively different from those of large reactors. No matter the size, there must be systems in place to ensure that the heat generated by the reactor core is removed both under normal and accident conditions at a rate sufficient to keep the fuel from overheating, becoming damaged, and releasing radioactivity. The effectiveness of such systems depends on the details of their design. Even nuclear fuel in spent fuel pools, which usually have much lower heat loads than reactor cores, can overheat and rupture if adequate cooling is not provided……..

……some vendors are marketing these designs as “inherently safe,” which is a misleading term. While there is no question that natural circulation cooling could be effective under many conditions for such small reactors, it is not the case that these reactors would be inherently safe under all accident conditions. There are accident scenarios in which heat-transfer conditions would be less than ideal and thus natural convection cooling could be impeded. For instance, for the NuScale design a large earthquake could send concrete debris into the pool, obstructing circulation of water or air. Indeed, no credible reactor design is completely passive: no design can shut itself down and cool itself in every circumstance without the need for intervention. Even passively safe reactors require some equipment, such as valves, that are designed to operate automatically. But no valve is 100 percent reliable. In addition, as discussed below, accidents affecting more than one small unit may cause complications that could overwhelm the capacity to cope with multiple failures, outweighing the advantages of having lower heat removal requirements per unit.

Ultimately, how well any safety systems work depends on the accidents against which they are designed to protect. Passive systems alone can address only a limited range of scenarios, and may not work as intended in the event of beyond-design-basis accidents. As a result, passive designs should also be equipped with multiple, diverse, and highly reliable active backup cooling systems. Such systems will necessarily be more complex but the engineering challenges should be manageable with good design of instrumentation and control system architecture. Still, more backup systems generally mean higher costs. Thus, a multiple-backup design philosophy is not generally compatible with the small, compact, stripped-down design of the SMRs currently under consideration………

The need to reduce SMR capital costs is driving one important passive safety system—the containment structure—to be smaller and less robust. None of the iPWR designs has a containment structure around the reactor with sufficient strength and volume to withstand the forces generated by overpressurization and hydrogen explosions in severe accidents. SMRs therefore must rely on means to prevent hydrogen from reaching explosive concentrations. However, neither active means (hydrogen igniters) nor passive means (hydrogen recombiners) of hydrogen control are likely to be as reliable as a robust containment………

Some SMR vendors propose to locate their reactors underground, which they argue will be a major safety benefit. While underground siting would enhance protection against certain events, such as aircraft attacks and earthquakes, it could have disadvantages as well. Again at Fukushima Daiichi, emergency diesel generators and electrical switchgear were installed below grade to reduce their vulnerability to seismic events, but that location increased their susceptibility to flooding. Moreover, in the event of a serious accident, emergency crews could have greater difficulty accessing underground reactors.

Underground siting of reactors is not a new idea. Decades ago, both Edward Teller and Andrei Sakharov proposed siting reactors deep underground to enhance safety. However, it was recognized early on that building reactors underground increases cost. Numerous studies conducted in the 1970s found construction cost penalties for underground reactor construction ranging from 11 to 60 percent (Myers and Elkins). As a result, the industry lost interest in underground siting. This issue will require considerable analysis to evaluate trade-offs.

And if it proves to be advantageous to safety, it remains to be seen whether reactor owners will be willing to pay for the additional cost of underground siting.

Complications of Multiple Reactors at a Site

SMR proponents frequently claim that, like the next generation of large reactors, the probability of reactor core damage can be lower for SMRs than for currently operating reactors. Although true, it is important to note that such claims refer to frequencies of internal events such as pipe breaks. When external events such as earthquakes, floods, and fires are added to a probabilistic risk assessment, however, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)—the policy organization of the nuclear industry—has pointed out that, “the calculated risk metrics for new reactors are likely to increase and therefore be closer to current plants than being portrayed today” (NEI)………..

SMR proponents also point out that the risk to the public from small reactors is lower than that from large reactors, by virtue of the fact that there is less radioactive material in the core. While that is certainly true, it is not the most useful comparison. The relevant factor with regard to societal risk is not the risk per unit, but the risk per megawatt of electricity generated. By this measure, small reactors do not necessarily imply smaller risks if there are more of them.

To see why, consider the impact on risk if one large unit is replaced with multiple smaller units providing the same total power. If the probability of core damage is comparable for small reactors and large reactors, then the total site risk—the probability of an accident multiplied by its consequence—will also be comparable in both cases (see Figure 1). Indeed, the overall site risk for the multiple SMRs could actually be higher than for a single reactor.

The scenario in Figure 1 assumes the damage probabilities and the consequences for the multiple reactors are independent. But they will not be independent unless the potential for common-mode failures and interactions between the multiple reactors are fully addressed.

In order for individual reactor units to remain independent, the number of support staff and amount of safety equipment would need to increase with the number of units on a site. Only through significant sharing of systems and personnel by multiple units, however, could the associated cost increase be moderated. Thus, the SMR vendors want to reduce the number of control rooms and licensed operators that the NRC would ordinarily require for a certain number of units. For example, the NuScale design could have a single control room operator in charge of as many as 12 units, the feasibility of which would have to be verified through performance testing……….

Distribution of SMRs Some SMR proponents argue that the size and safety of the designs of small modular reactors make them well suited for deployment to remote areas, military bases, and countries in the developing world that have small electric grids, relatively low electric demand, and no nuclear experience or emergency planning infrastructure. Such deployments, however, would raise additional safety, security, and proliferation concerns.

First, building many small reactors at a large number of geographically dispersed sites would put great strains on resources for licensing and for safety and security inspections……

Second, deployment of individual small reactors at widely distributed sites around the world could strain the resources of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) because inspectors would need to visit more locations per installed megawatt around the world. That strain could degrade the IAEA’s ability to safeguard reactors against their misuse for covert nuclear weapon programs. Maintaining robust oversight over vast networks of SMRs around the world would not only be difficult, but also would require the international community to increase funding significantly for the IAEA—a task that has already been extremely difficult to achieve in recent decades.

Third, it is unrealistic to assume that SMRs—especially in the near term—will be so safe that they can be shipped around the world without the need to ensure the highest levels of competence and integrity of local regulatory authorities, plant operators, emergency planning organizations, and security forces. Indeed, many nations where the DOE hopes to export SMRs may not have the resources to safely operate nuclear power plants………

Regulatory Rollbacks The SMR vendors are vigorously seeking regulatory relief from the NRC that would allow them to meet weaker safety and security standards. Such relief would not necessarily involve actual changes to the NRC’s regulations, but could be achieved through a variety of other mechanisms within the existing regulatory framework.

Security of SMRs

The pressure cooker bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, were a stark reminder of the ongoing terrorist threat in the United States. Nuclear reactors, like all elements of critical infrastructure, must be prepared to withstand terrorist attacks. Fukushima Daiichi demonstrated how rapidly a nuclear reactor accident can progress to a core meltdown if multiple safety systems are disabled. A well-planned and -executed terrorist attack could cause damage comparable to or even worse than the earthquake and tsunami that initiated the Fukushima crisis, potentially in even less time. For these reasons, the NRC requires nuclear plant owners to implement robust security programs to protect their plants against sabotage.

Despite these concerns, SMR proponents argue for reducing security requirements—in particular, security staffing—to reduce the cost of electricity produced by small modular reactors.

In 2011, Christofer Mowry, president of Babcock & Wilcox mPower, Inc., said, “Whether SMRs get deployed in large numbers or not is going to come down to O&M [operations and maintenance]. And the biggest variable that we can attack directly, the single biggest one, is the security issue” (NRC 2011a). His position was echoed by the NEI, which submitted a position paper to the NRC in July 2012 on the issue of physical security for SMRs (NEI 2012). It clearly laid out the industry view:

The regulatory issue of primary importance related to physical security of SMRs is security staffing. The issue has the potential to adversely affect the viability of SMR development in the U.S. Security staffing directly impacts annual operations and maintenance (O&M) costs and as such constitutes a significant financial burden over the life of the facility.  For this reason, evaluation of security staffing requirements for SMRs has become a key focal point.

The paper goes on to say:

[NRC security] requirements, many of which are based on years of operating experience with large LWR [light-water reactor] facilities, may not be appropriate or necessary for SMRs due to the[ir] simpler, safer and more automated design characteristics .

The NRC requires that nuclear power reactors protect against the design-basis threat (DBT) of radiological sabotage. That requirement mandates that armed response forces be deployed round-the-clock at reactors, charged with the sole responsibility for preventing a group of attackers with paramilitary training and weapons from destroying enough plant equipment to result in damage to the reactor core or spent fuel……..

The nuclear industry’s preoccupation with reducing security staffing is somewhat surprising. Even though security labor costs are significant, they are far from being a dominant contributor to overall O&M costs. Security staffing costs range from 15 to 25 percent of total O&M costs.

Reducing the security force at nuclear reactors would appear to be pennywise but pound-foolish……..

one thing is clear: a well-planned terrorist attack could indeed cause the kind of large-break loss-of-coolant event that the plant’s designers say could not occur in a mere accident. If terrorists were able to access the reactor vessel—a feat more likely with reduced security staffing—they could blow a hole in it in short order, utilizing the explosives that are assumed to be within the design-basis threat……….

The primary feature that mPower and other SMR vendors appear to credit in seeking relief from security regulations is underground siting. Underground siting would enhance protection against some attack scenarios, but not all. A direct jet impact on the reactor containment is less likely for an underground reactor, but the ensuing explosions and fire could cause a crisis. Certain systems, such as steam turbines, condensers, electrical switchyards, and cooling towers, will need to remain aboveground, where they will be vulnerable. Plants will require adequate access and egress for both routine and emergency personnel. Ventilation shafts and portals for equipment access also provide potential means of entry for intruders. In addition, if SMR sites have smaller footprints, as vendors are claiming, the site boundary will be closer to the reactor, and thus there will be less warning time in the event of an intrusion and potentially insufficient spatial separation of redundant and diverse safety systems.

In short, knowledgeable and determined adversaries will likely be able to develop attack scenarios that could circumvent measures such as underground siting. In situations such as hostage scenarios, terrorists may even be able to utilize the additional defense afforded by an underground site against off-site police and emergency response. Thus, a robust and flexible operational security response will be required no matter what intrinsic safeguards are added to reactor design……

Conclusions Unless a number of optimistic assumptions are realized, SMRs are not likely to be a viable solution to the economic and safety problems faced by nuclear power.

Indeed, SMRs are likely to have challenges keeping electricity costs low enough to be economically competitive with other sources, including larger reactors. As a result, concerns about costs and competitiveness may drive companies to make decisions about the design and operation of SMRs that undermine any new, inherent safety features not present in current large reactors. For example, designers may reduce other safety features, such as reducing containment strength or the diversity and redundancy of safety systems. Or the NRC may allow SMR owners to reduce the sizes of emergency planning zones and the numbers of operators and security officers per reactor……. http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/nuclear_power/small-isnt-always-beautiful.pdf

 

Dubious economics of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

September 12, 2016

FOR GENERAL ATOMICS, SMALLER NUCLEAR PLANTS ARE BEAUTIFUL, San Diego Union Tribune  But can its technology work? And is it even needed? BY ROB NIKOLEWSKI July 15, 2016 The scientists and engineers at General Atomics think the future of nuclear energy is coming on the back of a flatbed truck.

And the leadership at the San Diego-based company, which has been developing nuclear technologies for more than 60 years, has already spent millions in the expectation that its ambitious plans for the next generation of reactors will actually work.

“We have technology that we think is going to qualitatively change the game,” saidChristina Back, vice president of nuclear technologies and materials at General Atomics……..it’s designed to produce a reactor that’s so compact that the company’s handout material shows it being transported by tractor-trailer.

But EM² is still a long way from becoming a day-to-day reality in a fast-changing energy landscape.

Just building a prototype, Back said, is at least 10 years away and, “we’re looking at 2030-ish” before a commercial reactor could be up and running using EM² technology……And there are no guarantees the design will work……

Here in the United States, natural gas may pose an even greater challenge. Techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have unlocked vast amounts of natural gas in North America and the increased supply has lowered prices. Utilities are increasingly turning to natural gas-fired power plants to generate electricity, at least in large part, because gas burns much cleaner than coal.

Where does that leave nuclear?…….. nuclear has long faced intense opposition from those who consider it an inherently dangerous source of power and the EM² technology is being developed at a time when nuclear plants are getting shut down in places such as Illinois, Vermontand New York.

The environment for nuclear power in California is even more daunting……Critics of nuclear power point  to the falling costs and rising production numbers for renewable energy, as well as a mandate from the California Public Utilities Commission ordering the state’s big three investor-owned utilities to add 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage to their grids by the end of the decade.

McKinzie said the success of any advanced nuclear technology largely rests on its performance in the prototype stage, which does not come cheaply.”Safety and performance really have to be addressed by the protoype,” said McKinzie, who holds a doctorate in experimental nuclear physics from the University of Pennsylvania. “When you’re talking on the order of a billion dollars to get to that point, that’s a pretty high hurdle.”….The leadership at General Atomics has invested $40 million so far in the EM² technology…….General Atomics was one of five companies that received a share of a $13 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy in October 2014…….

Busting Australian Senator Sean Edward’s deceptive spin about PRISM nuclear reactors

June 11, 2016

not a single PRISM [ (Power Reactor Innovative Small Module]  has actually been built…. the commercial viability of these technologies is unproven

Crucially, under the plan, Australia would have been taking spent fuel for 4 years before the first PRISM came online, assuming the reactors were built on time.

if borehole technology works as intended, and at the prices hoped for, why would any country pay another to take their waste for $1,370,000 a tonne, when a solution exists that only costs $216,000 a tonne, less than one sixth of the price?

The impossible dream Free electricity sounds too good to be true. It is. A plan to produce free electricity for South Australia by embracing nuclear waste sounds like a wonderful idea. But it won’t work.  THE AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE Dan Gilchrist February 2016

“……NEW TECHNOLOGY  This comprehensively researched submission asserts that a transformative opportunity is to be found in pairing established, mature practices with cuspof-commercialisation technologies to provide an innovative model of service to the global community. (emphasis added) Edwards’ submission to the Royal Commission

Two elements of the plan – transport of waste, and temporary storage in the dry cask facility – are indeed mature. There is a high degree of certainty that these technologies will perform as expected, for the prices expected.
 It should be noted, however, that the price estimates used in the Edwards plan for the dry cask storage facility draw on estimates for an internal US facility to be serviced by rail.17 No consideration has been given to the cost of shipping the material from overseas.
Around a dozen ship loads a year would be needed to import spent fuel at the rate called for in the plan.18 It is likely that a dedicated port would also need to be constructed. The 1999 Pangea plan, which proposed a similar construction of a commercial waste repository in Australia, made allowances for “…international transport in a fleet of special purpose ships to a dedicated port in Australia”. 19
 Needless to say, building and operating highly specialised ships, or paying others to do so, would not be free. Building and operating a dedicated port would not be free. Yet none of these activities are costed in the plan.
Furthermore, beyond the known elements of transport and temporary storage, the principle technologies depended on – PRISM reactors and borehole disposal – are precisely those which are glossed over as being on the “cusp of commercialisation”.
 To put it another way: the commercial viability of these technologies is unproven.
 PRISM  [Power Reactor Innovative Small Module]The PRISM reactor is based on technology piloted in the US, up until the program was cancelled in 1994. 20 It offers existing nuclear-power nations what appears to be a tremendous deal: turn those massive stockpiles of waste into fuel, and reduce the long-term waste problem from one of millennia to one of mere centuries. It promises to be cheap, too, with the small modular design allowing mass production.
 Despite this promise, not a single PRISM reactor has actually been built. Officials at the South Korean Ministry of Science have said that they hope to have advanced reactors – if not the PRISM then something very similar – up and running by 2040.21 The Generation IV International Forum expects the first fourth generation reactors – of which the PRISM is one example – to be commercially deployed in the 2030’s.2
 After decades spent developing the technology in the United States, a US Department of Energy report dismissed the use of Advanced Disposition Reactors (ADR), a class which includes the PRISM-type integral fast reactor concept, as a way of drawing down on excess plutonium stocks. It compares it unfavourably to the existing – and expensive – mixed oxide (MOX) method of recycling nuclear fuel.
The ADR option involves a capital investment similar in magnitude to the [MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility] but with all of the risks associated with first of-a kind new reactor construction (e.g., liquid metal fast reactor), and this complex nuclear facility construction has not even been proposed yet for a Critical Decision …. Choosing the ADR option would be akin to choosing to do the MOX approach all over again, but without a directly relevant and easily accessible reference facility/operation (such as exists for MOX in France) to provide a leg up on experience and design.23
 Nevertheless, the Edwards plan hopes to have a pair of PRISMs built in 10 years.
Crucially, under the plan, Australia would have been taking spent fuel for 4 years before the first PRISM came online, assuming the reactors were built on time.
 The risk is that these integral fast reactors might turn out to be more expensive than anticipated and prove to be uneconomical. This could leave South Australia with expensive electricity and no other plan to deal with any of the spent fuel acquired to fund the reactors in the first place.
 For countries that have no long-term solution for their existing waste stockpiles, the business case for constructing a PRISM reactor is much clearer: even if the facility turns out to be uneconomical, it will nevertheless be able to process some spent fuel, thus reducing waste stockpiles. This added benefit makes the financial risk more worthwhile for such countries
Australia, on the other hand, doesn’t have an existing stockpile of high-level nuclear waste. The Edwards plan would see Australia acquire that problem in the hopes of solving it with technology never before deployed on a commercial scale. We would be buying off the plan, with many billions of dollars at stake, in the hopes that we, with little experience and minimal nuclear infrastructure, could solve a problem which has vexed far more experienced nations for decades.
 By the time the first PRISM is due to come online it will be too late to turn back, no matter what unexpected problems may be encountered. Australia would have acquired thousands of tonnes of spent fuel with no other planned use.
Counting on the development of other PRISM reactors around the world is another gamble. The proposed reprocessing plant accounts for all of the 4,000 tonne reduction in waste over the life of the plan. Australia will have no use for most of this material – the rest must be used by other PRISMs. If PRISMs are not widely adopted, Australia will have no takers. This could leave Australia with even more than 56,000 tonnes of waste, with no planned or costed solution.
 Borehole disposal 
The second element of the plan is the long-term disposal of waste from the PRISM reactors in boreholes. However this technology is still being tested.
 According to an article in the journal Science, bore-hole technology has significant issues to overcome.
The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, an independent panel that advises [the United States Department of Energy] DOE, notes a litany of potential problems: No one has drilled holes this big 5 kilometers into solid rock. If a hole isn’t smooth and straight, a liner could be hard to install, and waste containers could get stuck. It’s tricky to see flaws like fractures in rock 5 kilometers down. Once waste is buried, it would be hard to get it back (an option federal regulations now require). And methods for plugging the holes haven’t been sufficiently tested.
However, if estimates used by the Edwards plan are correct, and boreholes can be made to work as hoped, it would allow high-level nuclear waste to be disposed of for only $216,000 per tonne. The Edwards plan reduces this further for Australia, quoting only $138,000 a tonne, on the understanding that our own waste would be comparatively low level output from a PRISM – disregarding, as discussed above, the 56,000 tonnes left over.
 Nevertheless, the figure of $216,000 per tonne is important, because that is the price at which any country with suitable geology could store high level waste. It should be noted that Australia will not have exclusive access to borehole technology. If it is proven to be as effective as hoped there is nothing stopping many other countries from using it.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) notes that borehole siting activities have been initiated in Ghana, the Philippines, Malaysia and Iran.26 A pilot program is underway in the US.27 The range of geologies where boreholes may be effective is vast.
This may have serious implications for Australia’s waste disposal industry, given that other countries could build their own low-cost solution, or offer it to potential customers.
 However, if boreholes do not work as hoped, Australia will have no costed solution for the final disposal of high-level waste from its PRISM facilities. Australia would find itself in the very situation other countries had paid it to avoid.
PRICE What are countries willing to pay to have their spent fuel taken care of?
 This is an open question, as to date there is no international market in the permanent storage of high-level waste.
A figure of US$1,000,000 (A$1,370,000) per tonne is used by the Edwards plan, but this estimate does not appear to have any rigorous basis.
The Edwards plan gives only one real world example of a similar price: a recent plan by Taiwan to pay US$1,500,000 per tonne to send a small amount of its waste overseas for reprocessing. From this, the report concludes that an estimate of US$1,000,000 is entirely reasonable.
 However, the report neglects to mention several important facts about Taiwan’s proposal. First, this spent fuel was to be reprocessed, not disposed of, and most of the material was to be reclaimed as usable fuel. 29 This fuel would not be returned, but would continue to be owned by Taiwan, and be available for sale.30 If they could find a buyer, Taiwan might expect to recoup part or all of their costs by selling the reclaimed fuel to a third party.
 Second, the 20 percent of material to be converted into vitrified waste by the process was to be returned to Taiwan – no long-term storage would be part of the deal.
Third, and most importantly, the tender was suspended by the Taiwanese government pending parliamentary budget review.31 This occurred in March 2015, several months before the Edwards plan was submitted to the Royal Commission.
 Not only was the Taiwanese government proposing a completely different process to the one proposed by the Edwards plan, they weren’t willing to pay for it anyway. So the use of the Taiwanese case as a baseline example for the price Australia might hope to receive to store waste simply does not stand up to scrutiny.
The plan does briefly mention that the US nuclear power industry has set aside US$400,000 a tonne for waste disposal – to cover research, development and final disposal.32 This much lower figure is disregarded for no apparent reason, making the mid-scenario’s assumption of a price more than double this, at US$1,000,000, seem dubious. Even the pessimistic case considers a price of US$500,000 a tonne, higher than the US savings pool.
As will be discussed in the next section, the question remains: if borehole technology works as intended, and at the prices hoped for, why would any country pay another to take their waste for $1,370,000 a tonne, when a solution exists that only costs $216,000 a tonne, less than one sixth of the price?
 If South Australia led the way to prove the viability of the borehole disposal method and took on the risks associated with a first of its kind commercial operation, many other countries should be expected to use the technology for their own waste, or could offer those services to others. This alone makes the idea that other countries would pay $1,370,000 a tonne highly unlikely. ….https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/conservationsa/pages/496/attachments/original/1455085726/P222_Nuclear_waste_impossible_dream_FINAL.pdf?1455085726

The case against Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

March 20, 2016

To make this huge investment even begin to make sense you need to do it in a big way.  It is unclear if the mass production savings of SMRs will offset the economy of scale advantages of current designs. what is clear is that attempts to use modular components in the four AP1000s currently under construction in the US have utterly failed to keep costs down, or even controlled. 

And similarly this supposed benefit will not help the first handful of SMRs.  The non-partisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense gave SMR’s their Golden Fleece Award for using taxpayer money where business should be paying.

The small reactors we find in nuclear military vessels produce electricity at ridiculously high prices per kilowatt.  This is why no engineering firm is proposing these well understood designs for mass production.  The cost of naval small reactor power never becomes competitive, even if mass produced. 

Small reactors reduce costs by eliminating the secondary containment,increasing the chances nuclear accidents will not be contained.  There is still no rad-waste solution for these reactors.  Oh, and there are not even any finished designs for these reactors, much less prototypes.

Small is Ugly –  the case against Small Modular Reactors  http://funologist.org/2012/12/09/small-is-ugly-the-case-against-small-modular-reactors/

[With apologies to E.F. Schumacher, who wrote the important book Small is Beautiful] January 2016

“Don’t bet against technology.” is the advice i give to people who are saying certain industrial developments won’t happen, or will not happen soon. There are breakthroughs everyday and most of them are not forecasted much in advance.  So why am I not excited about the recent Department of Energy’s decision to fund the development of Small Modular Reactor (SMR) designs?

So the hype runs like this.  We want a reactor which is smaller because the big reactors are inflexible on the grid, often providing more power than an area (or even small countries) can use.  Small is flexible.  Small reactors can be built in factories and shipped to the site nearly complete – reversing the current ratio of 70% of the reactor built on site and 30% in the factory.  Mass production will help avoid cost overruns and delays which plague larger reactors.  Smaller reactors can be refueled less frequently and will require smaller staff to run them.  We need a mix of energy solutions, rather than depending on just fossil sources and renewables.  The navy has successfully used small reactors to power aircraft carriers and submarines successfully for years.  Let’s just take this technology to the private sector.

Sounds pretty compelling right?  It is no surprise these reactors have broad bi-partisan support in congress.

Small is flexible.  But it turns out that 180 to 250 MW of these new designs is not actually small.  The obstacle Germany and other countries face as they move to increasingly renewable solutions is that these big point source power producers interfere with grid distribution; basically renewable electricity has to be routed around them.  This is why the closure of reactors is so important in terms of building a real flexible renewables feed network of microgrids.  Big reactors are a big problem for the grid, these small reactors are still big enough to be a problem.

It is certainly possible that small reactors could be built in factories and shipped to sites nearly complete.  It is not a coincidence that large reactors have been built for so long and in so many places around the world by so many different engineering firms with some of the highest paid executives and engineers in the world.  I don’t like them, but these are not stupid people.

There are huge fixed costs associated with getting reactors running.  You need tremendous water supplies, large grid connections, waste and fuel handling facilities – there are favorable economies of scale to large reactors.  The reason dozens of engineering firms in over 30 countries around the globe have built big reactors (and multiple units wherever they could) is not because they all made the same mistake, it is because to make this huge investment even begin to make sense you need to do it in a big way.  It is unclear if the mass production savings of SMRs will offset the economy of scale advantages of current designs. what is clear is that attempts to use modular components in the four AP1000s currently under construction in the US have utterly failed to keep costs down, or even controlled.  And similarly this supposed benefit will not help the first handful of SMRs.  The non-partisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense gaveSMR’s their Golden Fleece Award for using taxpayer money where business should be paying.

The small reactors we find in nuclear military vessels produce electricity at ridiculously high prices per kilowatt.  This is why no engineering firm is proposing these well understood designs for mass production.  The cost of naval small reactor power never becomes competitive, even if mass produced.  And nuclear naval vessels don’t have to worry about cooling water, making them structurally cheaper than the proposed new SMRs.

The energy mix argument is a throwaway.  We can generate energy by hooking teenagers with ipods up to stationary bicycles and running turbines.  We don’t do this because it makes no economic sense.  Neither do nukes, large or small.

What is really happening is that the nuclear industry is not only not looking at the much hyped Renaissance, it is in its death throes.   At what was perhaps the height of the so-called Nuclear Renaissance, October 2010, 17 companies and consortium were applying for licenses to build 30 reactors in US. But by the beginning of 2011 over half of these projects had been officially abandoned, with most of the rest quite unlikely to ever be built.  Five reactors are under construction in the US, 2 in Georgia (Vogtle), 2 in South Carolina (VC Summer)  and Watts Bar II in Tennessee which was started  in 1973.  All of these plants are delayed and overbudget, despite 4 of them having started construction in the last 18 months.

Add to this the lower price of natural gas, the continuing decreasing cost of renewables, Fukushima market jitters, the Obama administration cutting loan guarantees for new reactor construction and there is not much of a future for old style large reactors.  [It is worth noting in the first 10 months of 2012, renewable energy sources accounted for 46% of all new installed capacity in the US.]

Small reactors reduce costs by eliminating the secondary containment,increasing the chances nuclear accidents will not be contained.  There is still no rad-waste solution for these reactors.  Oh, and there are not even any finished designs for these reactors, much less prototypes.

Don’t bet against technology.  But don’t waste billions and decades researching unproven designs which will likely never be economical, when there are safer, cleaner, cheaper solutions at hand.

Union of Concerned Scientists updated critique of small reactors.

Update July 2015:  The GAO report recently released sees many problems with SMRs and advanced reactor designs, including the likely inferior cost profile compared with real renewables.  More importantly, since this original writing Westinghouse has dropped out of SMR development citing that “there are no customers

Update January 2016 from the Ecologist Magazine: The US Government Accountability Office released a report in July 2015 on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other ‘advanced’ reactor concepts in the US. The report concluded:

“While light water SMRs and advanced reactors may provide some benefits, their development and deployment face a number of challenges … Depending on how they are resolved, these technical challenges may result in higher-cost reactors than anticipated, making them less competitive with large LWRs [light water reactors] or power plants using other fuels …

“Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs.

“It is a multi-decade process, with costs up to $1 billion to $2 billion, to design and certify or license the reactor design, and there is an additional construction cost of several billion dollars more per power plant.”

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]