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Action on climate change is stalled by unwise spending on small nuclear reactors

So Who Is Advocating For SMRs & Why?   

So why are they doing this?

Because it allows them to defer governmental climate action while giving the appearance of climate action. They can pander to their least intelligent and wise supporters by asserting that renewables aren’t fit for purpose, while also not doing anything about the real problem because SMRs don’t exist in a modern, deployable, operable form yet.

the people asserting that SMRs are the primary or only answer to energy generation either don’t know what they are talking about, are actively dissembling or are intentionally delaying climate action. 

Small nuclear reactor advocates refuse to learn the lessons of the past,   While history doesn’t repeat, merely rhymes, SMRs are rhyming hard,  Medium.com Michael Barnard, 12 Aug 21,  Like hydrogen, small modular nuclear reactors have been seeing a resurgence of interest lately. Much of that is driven by governmental policies and investments focusing on the technology. Much of it comes from the nuclear industry. And inevitably, some comes from entrepreneurs attempting to build a technology that they hope will take off in a major way, making them and their investors a lot of money.


Small modular reactors won’t achieve economies of manufacturing scale, won’t be faster to construct, forego efficiency of vertical scaling, won’t be cheaper, aren’t suitable for remote or brownfield coal sites, still face very large security costs, will still be costly and slow to decommission, and still require liability insurance caps. They don’t solve any of the problems that they purport to while intentionally choosing to be less efficient than they could be. They’ve existed since the 1950s and they aren’t any better now than they were then.

Most of the attention and funding is misguided at best, and actively hostile to climate action at worst.

There are a handful of differences between them and traditional nuclear generation reactors. The biggest one is that they are smaller, hence the ‘small’ and ‘medium’ in the names. They range from 0.068 MW to 500 MW in capacity, with the International Atomic Energy Association using small for up to 300 MW and medium for up to 700 MW.

Despite the buzz, this is not new technology. The first nuclear generation plant was a Russian 5 MW device that went live in 1954. Hundreds of small reactors have been built for nuclear powered vessels and as neutron sources. This is well trodden ground. Most of the innovations being touted were considered initially decades ago.

First, let’s explore briefly the world of small modular nuclear reactors (SMNR) or small and medium reactors (SMR). The most common acronym is SMR, but you’ll see both.

As it says on the box, they are nuclear generation devices, specifically nuclear fission thermal generation. That means they use fissile material heat emissions, to heat a liquid which creates steam which drives steam turbines to generate electricity. Technically, they are like a coal generation plant, but with the heat provided by the decay of uranium instead of the burning of long-buried plant matter.

In the seven decades since the first SMR was commissioned, 57 different designs and concepts have been designed, developed and, rarely, built. Most of the ones which are built are doing what nuclear reactors do, getting older without new ones being built to replace them.

The Russian models are far-north icebreaker power plants being considered for land-based deployment in remote northern towns, with the Siberian one at end of life. The Indian ones are 14 small CANDU variants in operation, most decades old now. The Chinese one is coming up to end of its 40-year life span as well.

The Argentinean model has been in construction on and off for over a decade with work stoppages, political grandstanding, and monetary problems. It may never see the light of day.

The Chinese HTR-PM, under construction for the past decade, is the only one with remotely new technology. If commissioned, it is expected to be the first Gen IV reactor in operation.

And to be clear, this isn’t a technology, it’s many technologies. Across the decades, 57 variants of 18 types have been put forward. None of the types can be considered to be dominant.

dvocates for SMRs typically make some subset of the following claims:

  • They are safer
  • They can be manufactured in scaled, centralized manufacturing facilities so they will be cheaper
  • They can provide clean power for remote facilities or communities
  • They can be deployed onto decommissioned coal generation brownfield sites
  • They can be built faster

None of these are actually good arguments.

So Who Is Advocating For SMRs & Why?   

At present we see SMR earmarked funds in both Canadian and US federal budgets, $150 million in Canada and 10 times as much in the US, mostly for research and development with the exception of over a billion to NuScale to, in theory, build something. In Canada, four provinces — Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan — have joined forces in an SMR consortium. Bill Gates’ Terrapower has received another $80 million, as has X-Energy from the US DOE.

The failure conditions of small modular reactors are obvious. The lack of a significant market is obvious. The lack of ability to create a clear winner is obvious. The security costs are obvious. The lack of vertical scaling to thermal efficiency is obvious. The security risks and associated costs are obvious. The liability insurance cap implications are obvious. So why is all of this money and energy being thrown at SMRs? There are two major reasons, and only one of them is at all tenable.

Let’s start with the worst one. The Canadian provinces which are focused on SMRs are claiming that they are doing this as a major part of their climate change solutions. They are all conservative governments. Only one of those provinces has a nuclear fleet, although New Brunswick has one old, expensive, and due-to-retire reactor, as well as a track record of throwing money away on bad energy ideas, like Joi Scientific’s hydrogen perpetual motion machines. One of the provinces, Ontario, has been actively hostile to renewable energy, with the current administration cutting up 758 renewables contracts and legislating a lack of recourse as a very early act after election.

So why are they doing this? Because it allows them to defer governmental climate action while giving the appearance of climate action. They can pander to their least intelligent and wise supporters by asserting that renewables aren’t fit for purpose, while also not doing anything about the real problem because SMRs don’t exist in a modern, deployable, operable form yet.

The other major reason gets back to renewables as well. 15 years ago it was an arguable position to hold that renewables were too expensive, would cause grid reliability issues and that nuclear in large amounts was necessary. That’s been disproven by both 15 years of failures of nuclear deployments, but more importantly plummeting costs and proven grid reliability with renewable generation. Now almost every serious analyst agrees that renewables can economically deliver 80% of required grid energy, but there is still debate from credible analysts about the remaining 20%.

However, it’s very reasonable to make a side bet or two to ensure coverage of that last 10-20%. I don’t mind research dollars spent on SMRs, which is all most of the SMR expenditures amount to, outside of the NuScale bailout (which is added to the Ohio $1.3 billion bailout, which is added to the annual $1.7 billion overt federal subsidy, which is added to the annual hidden $4 billion security subsidy which is added to the $70 billion unfunded cleanup subsidy, which is added to the uncosted and unfunded taxpayer liability). Spending a few tens of millions of dollars in rich countries to ensure that we have that last 20% bridged is reasonable.

But the people asserting that SMRs are the primary or only answer to energy generation either don’t know what they are talking about, are actively dissembling or are intentionally delaying climate action.  https://medium.com/the-future-is-electric/small-nuclear-reactor-advocates-refuse-to-learn-the-lessons-of-the-past-8ca1af3293c3

August 21, 2021 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

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