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Small nuclear reactors – questionable on safety, on toxic wastes, and on costs.

Nuclear Energy 101: What Exactly Are Small Modular Reactors? Bridget Reed Morawski  EcoWatch Aug. 18, 2021 ”’……………………… While advanced reactor designs like small modular reactors are applauded by some for their potential to dramatically lower the costs and siting requirements for nuclear energy facilities, not everyone is throwing their support behind the technologies.

Edwin Lyman
 of the Union of Concerned Scientists counts himself among the SMR skeptics. As the non-profits’ nuclear power safety director, Lyman doesn’t believe that small modular reactor developers have “made the safety case that they don’t need a large structure,” even if the federal nuclear regulation agency “seems to be going along with their approach.”

………. Greg Rzentkowski, the IAEA’s nuclear installation safety division director, notes on the forum’s website that “SMRs are in general less dependent on safety systems, operational measures and human intervention than existing reactors,” adding that “the usual regulatory approach, which is based on overlapping safety provisions to compensate for potential mechanical and human failures, may not be appropriate and new ideas should be considered.”

Lyman doesn’t believe that the regulatory approach should be altered for new designs.

“I would say that any of these concepts aren’t necessarily safer and a big part of overall safety is not simply intrinsic aspects of the design, but also what is the set of safety requirements that you impose on that [design]?” said Lyman.

In Lyman’s opinion, “if the [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] grants exemptions and allows small modular reactors to take credit for these inherent safety features to reduce other aspects of operation that add layers of safety […] the overall outcome may be no better or even worse.” He explained that owners of conventional reactors are required by the NRC to draw up emergency evacuation plans that cover a 10-mile zone around the plant, for example, but that developers argue they don’t need such a plan for small reactors.

“But if they’re wrong, if there’s some unexamined accident sequence that can lead to a worse event than they contemplate, then you don’t have that extra layer of safety by being able to evacuate people,” he said.

The topic of nuclear waste disposal is among Lyman’s other concerns about small modular reactors. Although these smaller reactors may require fewer refuelings, he says that “it doesn’t matter what kind of reactor you have, there is no long-term strategy for nuclear waste disposal in this country, and most other countries in the world.” He added that more research needs to be done on storing certain small modular reactor fuel types in the long-term.

Some SMR developers also point to the added sustainability factor that comes from their recycling of nuclear waste. However, Lyman says “there’s no such thing as a reactor that consumes radioactive waste; what they’re really talking about is reprocessing spent fuel,” another term for nuclear waste.

As Lyman wrote in a March 2021 report, “any nuclear fuel cycle that utilizes reprocessing and recycling of spent fuel poses significantly greater nuclear proliferation and terrorism risks than” reactors that don’t reprocess such waste. Reprocessing “provides far greater opportunities for diversion or theft of plutonium and other nuclear-weapon usable materials.”

Lyman also questions the claims that small modular reactors are lower cost, saying that “it’s a situation where these reactors might be more affordable, but not more economical.” Procuring kilowatts of power from a small modular reactor might be cheaper in terms of how much money the overall facility costs but not in terms of how much it costs to produce a kilowatt of power compared to a much larger facility.

Think about it like your last trip to the grocery store: a single can of soda might have cost $1.50, but an entire 12-pack was priced at $10. That single soda might have a lower price than the entire pack, but you’re also getting a lot less soda per dollar spent. Similarly, Lyman believes the price per unit of electricity generated by a fleet of small modular reactors can’t actually be lower than the cost of a group of larger nuclear reactors generating the same amount of power.

Either way, small modular reactor development has attracted investment dollars from the federal government and private companies alike. Bill Gates, for example, is the main financier behind TerraPower, which plans to locate small modular reactors at the site of a former Wyoming coal plant in partnership with PacifiCorp, an investor-owned utility that operates in the intermountain west.

A competing company, the Oregon-based small modular nuclear reactor developer NuScale, has received roughly $192 million so far this year alone from private companies and investors. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy announced an up to $1.4 billion cost-share agreement with NuScale for a demonstration project in Idaho. At the time, Rita Baranwal, the DOE’s then-assistant secretary for nuclear energy, called the project “instrumental in the deployment of SMRs around the world.”


August 19, 2021 - Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA

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