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Small nuclear reactors make no economic sense, despite the boost by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and lobbyists.

Guess Who’s Leading the Charge for Nuclear Power in Canada?
Small reactors make no economic sense, despite the boost by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and lobbyists.
David Climenhaga The Tyee, Today | Alberta Politics 10 Jan 22,

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

Small nuclear reactors don’t make any more economic sense now than they did back in the summer of 2020 when Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took to the internet to tout the supposed benefits of the largely undeveloped technology being promoted by Canada’s nuclear industry.

Now that Kenney has taken to Twitter again to claim atomic energy is a “real solution that helps reduce emissions” and that so-called small modular reactors can “strengthen and diversify our energy sector,” it’s worth taking another look at why the economics of small nuclear reactors don’t add up.

As I pointed out in 2020, “as long as natural gas is cheap and plentiful, small nuclear reactors will never make economic sense.”

Natural gas is somewhat more expensive now than it was then, but not enough to make a difference to that calculation when the massive cost of any new nuclear-energy project is considered.

Even “small modular reactors,” so named to reassure a public skittish about the term nuclear and wary of the costs and risks of atomic reactors, are extremely expensive. It would be more accurate to call them “medium-sized nuclear reactors.”

For example, two such reactors built by Russia starting in 2006 were supposed to cost US$140 million. They ended up costing US$740 million by the time the project was completed in 2019.

Getting approvals for smaller reactors is time consuming, too. As environmentalist and author Chris Turner pointed out yesterday, the first small nuclear reactor approved in the United States “submitted its application in 2017, got approval late last year, could begin producing 700MW by 2029 if all goes perfectly. Solar will add double that to Alberta’s grid by 2023.” Indeed, the estimated completion date of the NuScale Power project may be even later.

The small reactors touted by many companies, often entirely speculative ventures, are nothing more than pretty drawings in fancy brochures. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are about 50 concepts, but only a couple in the United States and Russia with massive amounts of government money behind them are anything more than pipedreams or stock touts’ pitches to investors.

And small nuclear reactors are less economical than big reactors, so power companies aren’t interested in building them; all but one proposed design requires enriched uranium, which Canada doesn’t produce, so they won’t do much for uranium mining in Alberta; and all the safety and waste-removal problems of big nukes continue to exist with small ones.

These points are documented in more detail my 2020 post, which also discussed why smaller reactors will never create very many jobs in Alberta, ……………………-

January 11, 2022 - Posted by | Canada, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

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