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Is anyone really interested in Small Modular Nuclear Reactors? (- only those selling them)

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Someone should have challenged the headline. Whose interest in Small Modular Reactors is growing?

Not the major nuclear firms.

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.”

Overton notes that in 2013, MidAmerican Energy scuttled plans to build an SMR-based plant in Iowa. This year, Babcock & Wilcox scaled back much of its SMR program and sacked 100 workers in its SMR division. Westinghouse has abandoned its SMR program. As he explains:

“The problem has really been lurking in the idea behind SMRs all along. The reason conventional nuclear plants are built so large is the economies of scale: Big plants can produce power less expensively per kilowatt-hour than smaller ones.

“The SMR concept disdains those economies of scale in favor of others: large-scale standardized manufacturing that will churn out dozens, if not hundreds, of identical plants, each of which would ultimately produce cheaper kilowatt-hours than large one-off designs.

“It’s an attractive idea. But it’s also one that depends on someone building that massive supply chain, since none of it currently exists. … That money would presumably come from customer orders – if there were any. Unfortunately, the SMR “market” doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

“SMRs must compete with cheap natural gas, renewables that continue to decline in cost, and storage options that are rapidly becoming competitive. Worse, those options are available for delivery now, not at the end of a long, uncertain process that still lacks [US Nuclear Regulatory Commission] approval.

Interest in Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Is Growing. So Are Fears They Aren’t Viable, SMRs are the future of nuclear. Will they always be the future? GTM JASON DEIGN MARCH 14, 2018  The slow-moving small modular reactor (SMR) market saw some positive activity in recent weeks, even as one expert predicted the technology would never achieve commercialization.

Earlier this month, the World Nuclear Association reported that Ukraine had signed a memorandum of understanding with SMR developer Holtec International, aiming to turn the Eastern European nation into a manufacturing hub for Holtec’s SMR-160 reactors.

The Association said Holtec is planning a Ukrainian manufacturing plant to allow for partial localization of its 160-megawatt SMRs, so Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom can use the design to replace two aging Russian VVER-440 reactors at its Rivne nuclear power plant.

The news came a week after the government of Canada announced a road-mapping exercise to explore the potential of SMRs in the country.

“The road map will be an important step in positioning Canada to advance next-generation technologies and become a global leader in the emerging SMR market,” said Natural Resources Canada, a federal institution.

This was welcome news for a technology that has been slow to achieve commercialization — and which some believe might never take off.

In the December 2017 edition of the National University of Singapore’s Energy Studies Institute Bulletin, for example, Canadian academic Professor M.V. Ramana provided a detailed argument for why SMRs could never be a viable technology.

Nuclear plants in general require high levels of capital, he noted, and high construction costs mean the electricity they provide ends up being more expensive than coal, gas and, more recently, wind and solar.

SMRs may be able to overcome the first problem, said Ramana, who is a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs.

But SMRs could end up with even higher energy costs because the smaller reactors can’t take advantage of economies of scale unless they’re manufactured “by the thousands, even under very optimistic assumptions about rates of learning.”

Experience indicates such rates of learning may be rare in the nuclear industry. In France and the U.S., according to Ramana, reactor construction costs have historically risen rather than falling.

Also, mass production would need the industry to settle on a single SMR design. As of 2016 there were 48 listed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Finally, said Ramana, for all the interest in SMRs, no country has yet got behind the technology enough for it to be commercialized. This likely indicates demand for the reactors is not as solid as proponents imagine.

“SMRs seem appealing to many countries at first sight,” Ramana told GTM. “But once they get into the actual nitty gritty of planning an SMR project, they realize that there are numerous problems.

“Economics are a significant challenge, as is the problem of finding sites to construct the many units that would have to replace a single nuclear reactor.” …..

December 21, 2019 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

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