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No, There Won’t Be Nuclear-Powered Commercial Shipping This Time Either

Clean Technica 25 May 23

Nuclear for commercial ships is so obviously flawed from a business perspective that I didn’t even bother to include it in my quadrant chart of sexy vs impractical maritime decarbonization technologies.

A while ago, I published my sexy-practical quadrant chart for maritime shipping decarbonization. Sharp-eyed readers noted an omission from it: nuclear power for commercial ships. While I make no claims to be encyclopedic, I do try to be relatively thorough, and it honestly didn’t occur to me to include it. Imagine my surprise that a private nuclear commercial shipping representative, CTO Giulio Gennaro of Core Power Energy, was on the panel with me at Stena Sphere’s technical summit in Glasgow.

My take is that all inland shipping and two-thirds of short sea shipping will just go to battery-electric eventually. There will be hybrid solutions where when the batteries are replaced, the pure battery range will increase and less fuel will be consumed. And biofuels will take care of the rest……………………………………………………………..

As an indicator of that niche going away, while there are over 900 ultra large crude carriers in service, only one — yes, that’s not a typo, only a single ship of that class — was on order earlier this year. No one is buying them because everyone knows that they have a good chance of being stranded assets. As I found out this week, smaller carriers are being ordered, but the ones most suitable for nuclear aren’t.

He made it clear that they were arguing for small molten salt nuclear reactors (which I guess would be MSR SMRs?), but no one pressed him on commercial demonstration of that technology. For context, there are two prototype, non-grid connected, tiny MSRs in operation in China the last time I checked. This technology has been around since the 1960s and was never commercialized. And as the product doesn’t exist today, it won’t exist in any volumes for a decade at least. They have a preferred technology, but I see no evidence of a specific design. They appear to be doing more promotion of the idea rather than development of a product.


May 27, 2023 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

Stanford-led research finds small modular reactors will exacerbate challenges of highly radioactive nuclear waste

Small modular reactors, long touted as the future of nuclear energy, will actually generate more radioactive waste than conventional nuclear power plants, according to research from Stanford and the University of British Columbia.

BY MARK SHWARTZ, 30 May, News Stanford

Nuclear reactors generate reliable supplies of electricity with limited greenhouse gas emissions. But a nuclear power plant that generates 1,000 megawatts of electric power also produces radioactive waste that must be isolated from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. Furthermore, the cost of building a large nuclear power plant can be tens of billions of dollars.

To address these challenges, the nuclear industry is developing small modular reactors that generate less than 300 megawatts of electric power and can be assembled in factories. Industry analysts say these advanced modular designs will be cheaper and produce fewer radioactive byproducts than conventional large-scale reactors.

But a study published May 31 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has reached the opposite conclusion.

“Our results show that most small modular reactor designs will actually increase the volume of nuclear waste in need of management and disposal, by factors of 2 to 30 for the reactors in our case study,” said study lead author Lindsay Krall, a former MacArthur Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). “These findings stand in sharp contrast to the cost and waste reduction benefits that advocates have claimed for advanced nuclear technologies.”

…………………………………. In the U.S. alone, commercial nuclear power plants have produced more than 88,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, as well as substantial volumes of intermediate and low-level radioactive waste. The most highly radioactive waste, mainly spent fuel, will have to be isolated in deep-mined geologic repositories for hundreds of thousands of years. At present, the U.S. has no program to develop a geologic repository  after spending decades and billions of dollars on the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. As a result, spent nuclear fuel is currently stored in pools or in dry casks at reactor sites, accumulating at a rate of about 2,000 metric tonnes per year.

Simple metrics

Some analysts maintain that small modular reactors will significantly reduce the mass of spent nuclear fuel generated compared to much larger, conventional nuclear reactors. But that conclusion is overly optimistic, according to Krall and her colleagues.

“Simple metrics, such as estimates of the mass of spent fuel, offer little insight into the resources that will be required to store, package, and dispose of the spent fuel and other radioactive waste,” said Krall, who is now a scientist at the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company. “In fact, remarkably few studies have analyzed the management and disposal of nuclear waste streams from small modular reactors.”

Dozens of small modular reactor designs have been proposed. For this study, Krall analyzed the nuclear waste streams from three types of small modular reactors being developed by Toshiba, NuScale, and Terrestrial Energy. Each company uses a different design. Results from case studies were corroborated by theoretical calculations and a broader design survey. This three-pronged approach enabled the authors to draw powerful conclusions.

“The analysis was difficult, because none of these reactors are in operation yet,” said study co-author Rodney Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and co-director of CISAC. “Also, the designs of some of the reactors are proprietary, adding additional hurdles to the research.”

Neutron leakage

Energy is produced in a nuclear reactor when a neutron splits a uranium atom in the reactor core, generating additional neutrons that go on to split other uranium atoms, creating a chain reaction. But some neutrons escape from the core – a problem called neutron leakage – and strike surrounding structural materials, such as steel and concrete. These materials become radioactive when “activated” by neutrons lost from the core.

The new study found that, because of their smaller size, small modular reactors will experience more neutron leakage than conventional reactors. This increased leakage affects the amount and composition of their waste streams.

“The more neutrons that are leaked, the greater the amount of radioactivity created by the activation process of neutrons,” Ewing said. “We found that small modular reactors will generate at least nine times more neutron-activated steel than conventional power plants. These radioactive materials have to be carefully managed prior to disposal, which will be expensive.”

The study also found that the spent nuclear fuel from small modular reactors will be discharged in greater volumes per unit energy extracted and can be far more complex than the spent fuel discharged from existing power plants.

“Some small modular reactor designs call for chemically exotic fuels and coolants that can produce difficult-to-manage wastes for disposal,” said co-author Allison Macfarlane, professor and director of the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. “Those exotic fuels and coolants may require costly chemical treatment prior to disposal.”

“The takeaway message for the industry and investors is that the back end of the fuel cycle may include hidden costs that must be addressed,” Macfarlane said. “It’s in the best interest of the reactor designer and the regulator to understand the waste implications of these reactors.”


The study concludes that, overall, small modular designs are inferior to conventional reactors with respect to radioactive waste generation, management requirements, and disposal options.

One problem is long-term radiation from spent nuclear fuel. The research team estimated that after 10,000 years, the radiotoxicity of plutonium in spent fuels discharged from the three study modules would be at least 50 percent higher than the plutonium in conventional spent fuel per unit energy extracted. ……..more

May 17, 2023 Posted by | Reference, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, wastes | Leave a comment

A mess of different Small Nuclear Reactor Designs in UK.

By the time SMRs might be deployable in significant numbers, realistically after 2035, it will be too late for them to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The risk is that, as in all the previous failed nuclear revivals, the fruitless pursuit of SMRs will divert resources away from options that are cheaper, at least as effective, much less risky, and better able to contribute to energy security and environmental goals.

No2 Nuclear Power SAFE ENERGY E-JOURNAL No.97, April 2023

More designs of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are beginning to emerge which could rival the Rolls Royce design, so the government has decided to launch its competition to gather further evidence before any firm deals are struck. According to ONR a number of companies have, in recent months, applied to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for entry into Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process. BEIS is assessing those applications before deciding whether or not to ask ONR to start the GDA process. The plan is for the government to eventually award £1bn in co-funding to the winning SMR design. This money would help the company get through the GDA process.

At least six new SMR designs have applied to BEIS to be entered into the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process. As well as Rolls Royce’s SMR, which has already entered the process. (1) The applicants are proposing to build a range of technologies including fast reactors and high temperature reactors which were built as prototypes in the 1950s and 1960s – but successive attempts to build demonstration plants have been short-lived failures. It is hard to see why these technologies should now succeed given their poor record.

The main claim for SMRs over their predecessors is that being smaller, they can be made in factories as modules using cheaper production line techniques, rather than one-off component fabrication methods being used at Hinkley Point C. Any savings made from factory-built modules will have to compensate for the scale economies lost. A 1,600MW reactor is likely to be much cheaper than 10 reactors of 160MW. And it will be expensive to test the claim that production line techniques will compensate for lost scale economies. By the time SMRs might be deployable in significant numbers, realistically after 2035, it will be too late for them to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The risk is that, as in all the previous failed nuclear revivals, the fruitless pursuit of SMRs will divert resources away from options that are cheaper, at least as effective, much less risky, and better able to contribute to energy security and environmental goals. (2)

The six designs are:

  1. GE Hitachi (GEH) submitted an application for its BWRX-300 boiling water reactor in December.
  2. 2. The US firm Holtec has submitted its SMR-160 design, a 160MWe pressurised water reactor developed in collaboration with Mitsubishi Electric of Japan and Hyundai
  3. 3. US firm X-Energy, working with Cavendish Nuclear, wants to deploy its high-temperature gas reactor in the UK.
  4. 4. UK-Italian start-up Newcleo has submitted it lead-cooled fast reactor design. The company says it’s in discussions with the NDA about using Sellafield plutonium and depleted uranium. (3) The Company says it has raised £900m to further its plans which include the establishment of a first Mixed Plutonium-Uranium Oxides (MOX) production plant in France, with another plant to follow later in the UK. (4)
  5. 5. UK Atomics – a subsidiary of Denmark’s Copenhagen Atomics – says it has submitted a Generic Design Assessment (GDA) entry application for its small and modular thorium molten salt reactor. (5)
  6. 6. GMET, a Cumbrian engineering group which last year acquired established nuclear supplier TSP Engineering, said it is developing a small reactor called NuCell for production at TSP’s Workington facility. (6)

The list makes no mention of an application by NuScale, which has already expressed an interest in building at Trawsfynydd. (7) According to the Telegraph, NuScale’s reactor has received design approval from the US’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) putting it ahead of the competition. (8) However, it was NuScale’s 50 MWe design which was approved by the NRC. That is no longer being pursued by the company. It is applying for a new approval for its 77 MWe design. Although NuScale claimed that the new design was so close to the original that the second approval would be simple, that is turning out not to be the case, as the NRC made clear in its recent letter. (9)

No mention either of the Last Energy micro reactor. The Company has signed a $19 billion deal to supply 34 x 20 MW nuclear reactors to Poland and the UK. These SMRs will be about 2.4 times the cost per MWh of the very expensive Hinkley facility. (10)

Mark Foy, Chief Executive and Chief Nuclear Inspector, Office for Nuclear Regulation, told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in January that he was assuming that ONR will be asked to undertake a number of GDAs for some of the SMR technologies that are currently being considered by BEIS. “Our assessment is that if BEIS determines that two or three technologies need to go through generic design assessment, that work will be done in the next four years, or thereabouts”. (11)

Prof Steve Thomas, Greenwich University, has critically assessed the current enthusiasm for Small Modular Reactors in the UK and elsewhere. He concludes:

The risk is not so much that large numbers of SMRs will be built, they won’t be. The risk is that, as in all the previous failed nuclear revivals, the fruitless pursuit of SMRs will divert resources away from options that are cheaper, at least as effective, much less risky, and better able to contribute to energy security and environmental goals. Given the climate emergency we now face, surely it is time to finally turn our backs on this failing technology?” (12)

‘Green’ Freeports

Meanwhile, the Inverness Courier reports that the Cromarty Firth and Inverness green freeport hopes to fabricate parts for SMRs and then transport them to the construction site wherever that might be. (13) Highlands Against Nuclear Power (formerly Highlands Against Nuclear Transport) says nuclear should not be part of the Cromarty freeport vision. (14)

The Scottish NFLA convenor, Councillor Paul Leinster wrote to Scottish Government Net Zero Minister Michael Matheson asking him to reject nuclear power at Scotland’s two new Green Freeports and instead make them a hub for renewable technologies to produce power for the nation. (15) Unfortunately, the Minister replied saying he will not be opposed to a nuclear manufacturing facility in a supposed Green Freeport. (16)

Forth Green Freeport has said they have no plans for nuclear power generation at its sites – including Rosyth – after campaigners raised concerns. “The Forth Green Freeport vision for Rosyth is centred around a new freight terminal, offshore renewable manufacturing and green power generating capacity,” said the spokesperson. “The FGF will also enable the development of largescale advanced manufacturing, skills and innovation onsite, alongside a proposed new rail freight connection. This vision and the associated economic and community benefits will boost Fife and the wider region. There are no plans for nuclear power generation on FGF sites.” However, it’s possible FGF is answering the wrong question which is about manufacturing parts for SMRs, not nuclear generation. (17)

There were reports that the Ineos-run facility at Grangemouth was interested in building a Rolls Royce SMR, (18) but the Scottish Government said it would block such a move, (19) Energy Minister, Michael Matheson responded to a letter from Scottish NFLA chair, Councillor Paul Leinster, saying Scottish ministers “remain committed” to their “long-standing government policy to withhold support for any new nuclear power stations to be built in Scotland” and officials have been advised by Ineos that “Small Modular Reactors do not currently form part of their net zero road map for Grangemouth”. (20) The Scottish Tories attacked the Scottish Government for its stance describing it as anti-business. (21

May 7, 2023 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK | Leave a comment

MPs, Scientists Raise Alarm Over Climate Hype for Small Modular Reactors

The Energy Mix, May 2, 2023. Primary Author: Christopher Bonasia @CBonasia_

Several Members of Parliament and activists are warning the Canadian government that its support for nuclear energy projects could prove costly and ineffective—even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maintains that nuclear is “on the table” for achieving the country’s climate goals.

The federal government considers nuclear energy—including small modular reactors (SMRs) that are touted as easier to build and run than traditional nuclear plants—as key to meeting energy needs while aiming for net-zero by 2050.

………………..But on April 25, anti-nuclear activists and a cross-partisan group of MPs held a media conference on Parliament Hill, urging Ottawa to rethink its stance on nuclear and calling the energy source a dangerous distraction from climate action, reported CBC News.

Speakers in the group said Trudeau and his cabinet are getting bad advice about nuclear energy.

“The nuclear industry, led by the United States and the United Kingdom, has been lobbying and advertising heavily in Canada, trying to convince us that new SMR designs will somehow address the climate crisis,” said Prof. Susan O’Donnell, a member of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB). The reality, she added, is that SMRs will produce “toxic radioactive waste” and could lead to serious accidents while turning some communities into “nuclear waste dumps”.

Moreover, there is “no guarantee these nuclear experiments will ever generate electricity safely and affordably,” O’Donnell said, since SMRs are still relatively untested.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called government funding for nuclear projects a “fraud.”

“It has no part in fighting the climate emergency,” May said. “In fact, it takes valuable dollars away from things that we know work, that can be implemented immediately, in favour of untested and dangerous technologies that will not be able to generate a single kilowatt of electricity for a decade or more.”

Liberal MP Jenica Atwin, New Democrat Alexandre Boulerice, and Bloc Québecois MP Mario Simard also attended the media event, the National Post reports. Atwin, who was first elected as a Green in 2019 before crossing the floor, “is the only Liberal to publicly break ranks so far, but said she has had conversations with colleagues who appear to be ‘open-minded’ to learning more about her concerns,” the Post says.

Advocacy groups like the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) have also pushed back against SMRs, arguing they “pose safety, accident, and proliferation risks” akin to traditional nuclear reactors. CELA urged[pdf] the federal government to “eliminate federal funding for SMRs, and instead reallocate those investments into cost-effective, socially responsible, renewable solutions.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says renewables will “lead the push to replace fossil fuels” but that nuclear can help in countries where it is accepted. As of 2022, there were only three SMR projects in operation—one each in Russia, China, and India, CBC News reported.

Canada’s First SMR Passes Pre-Licencing

In Ontario, which currently produces 60% of its electricity from conventional nuclear stations, plans for one such SMR passed a regulatory checkpoint in March. Slated to be Canada’s first new nuclear reactor since 1993, the BWRX-300 is being built by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and North Carolina-based GE Hitachi.

…………………………………………………………………….The review is not binding on the commission and does not involve the issuance of a licence, but its completion does give OPG “a head start on licencing,” said GE Hitachi spokesperson Jonathan Allen.

However, the pre-licencing review also revealed “some technical areas that need further development,” CNSC said. The commission will require OPG to supply further details on severe accident analysis and the engineered features credited for mitigation. OPG must also demonstrate that the reactor’s design meets the requirement for two separate and diverse means of reactor shutdown (or an alternative approach) and provide further information “on the protective measures for workers in the event of an out-of-core criticality accident.”

“From the list of areas needed for further development, it looks like [GE Hitachi] has some work to do,” said Allison Macfarlane, director of the University of British Columbia’s public policy school, who chaired the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) between 2012 and 2014.

BWRX-300 Raises Safety Questions

The BWRX-300 is a leading concept that GE Hitachi says is its simplest boiling water design, and could deliver 60% lower capital costs per megawatt than other SMRs.

But Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Mix he has concerns about the design. He pointed to a joint CNSC-NRC review [pdf] that identified several issues associated with reactor containment, including a potential for “reverse flow” of steam from the containment back into the reactor vessel under certain accident conditions. The review also found that the reactor’s reliance on isolation condensers may not always be effective to remove heat from the reactor during loss-of-coolant accidents.

“The consequences of a failure of isolation condensers is apparent from the fate of Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1, which experienced a core melt only hours after the system was lost,” Lyman said, citing the 2011 nuclear disaster in Ōkuma, Japan.

He added he is “extremely skeptical” that the BWRX-300 design will mature quickly enough to allow CNSC to make a meaningful determination of its safety in time for the anticipated 2028 start date. SMR designs need to undergo further testing and analysis before they can be considered safe, and yet vendors are rushing to deploy new, untested reactor designs without going through the necessary stages of technology development, including testing of full-scale prototypes, Lyman said.

“History has shown that shortcuts in this process are an invitation to disaster,” he added.

SMRs fall under the same Class 1A Nuclear Facilities Regulations as traditional reactors, so they do receive the same level of CNSC scrutiny. With its mandate to ensure the safe conduct of nuclear activities in Canada, the commission “will only issue a licence if the applicant has demonstrated the reactor can be operated safely,” the spokesperson said.

Next steps for the DNNP include a CNSC assessment, already under way, to review OPG’s licence application. This will result in a Commission Member Document that offers results and recommendations to an independent commission. Then there will also be two public hearings. The first is slated [pdf] for January 2024 and will consider the applicability of the previous environmental assessment to the BWRX-300. A separate, future hearing will determine whether to issue a construction licence for the DNNP.

“It is the independent commission who will make the decision as to whether the licensee or applicant is qualified to carry on the proposed activities and in a safe manner that protects the public and the environment,” the CNSC spokesperson said.

May 4, 2023 Posted by | Canada, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

The age of small modular nuclear?

the CEO of Rolls Royce described it as “a Lego kit of parts” for building a nuclear reactor. So it’s not actually an Small Modular Reactor , but why not call it one if you can tap government funding by pretending it is?


There was something of a non-sequitur from Britain’s Chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently. “We don’t want to see high bills like this again,” he said of the country’s current energy costs. “It’s time for a clean energy reset. That is why we are fully committing to nuclear power in the UK, backing a new generation of small modular reactors.”

If I was hoping to bring down energy bills, then nuclear isn’t the first place I’d look. The cost of Hinkley Point C, Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in decades, was originally priced at £16 billion. That made it the most expensive building in the world, and that was before costs began to spiral upwards. The latest estimate is that it will cost £32 billion. So it really doesn’t make much sense for Jeremy Hunt to be promising lower bills with nuclear power.

But maybe it’s not about megaprojects like Hinkley. Maybe, as Hunt suggests, the future lies in the much-vaunted Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). A number of agencies are looking for smaller reactors that can be standardised and therefore built quickly and cheaply – cheap being relative in the world of nuclear. It ought to be cheaper to install a chain of SMRs than to build one massive and bespoke power station.

The theory is that if they are small and they are modular, then SMRs would be closer to a manufactured product than a construction project. That would mean economies of scale, and potentially prompt the kind of decline in costs that we’ve seen in solar or in battery technologies.

But SMRs have been discussed for years. How close are we to seeing them as part of a low-carbon electricity grid?

Let’s start with who is working on the idea. A recent overview of the sector from the OECD includes this map of various projects. It’s not exhaustive, but it shows the major players.

Most of the action is in the US, with other projects in China, Britain, France, Russia and a handful of others. Some of these are private enterprises, particularly the American ones. Elsewhere a lot of the work is coming from state-owned nuclear companies such as EDF in France, or Argentina’s CNEA. Anyone who has invested in nuclear power and research in the past is likely to have an SMR project on a drawing board somewhere.

Is anyone actually building them? Sort of, but only China and Russia have working SMRs so far – a demonstration plant in China, and Russia’s pioneering floating nuclear power station, the Akademik Lomonosov. I wouldn’t consider either of those to be good examples of what SMRs are supposed to be, but they’re the ones that get mentioned. Construction on further plants is underway in both countries, along with Argentina. As the OECD notes, “there are currently no SMRs licensed to operate outside of China or Russia.” Everywhere else, SMRs are in various phases of research, design and planning.

This doesn’t tell us much about how long it’s going to take to bring SMRs into the energy mix. That’s because the big obstacle in nuclear power isn’t technology, but regulation. It’s incredibly difficult and slow to bring a new nuclear technology to market, and rightly so, given its dangers. Licensing a new nuclear design in the US takes five years and costs a billion dollars – and that’s before you even apply to build anything. That’s just to confirm that the design is safe.

Things move incredibly slowly in the nuclear world. The concepts for the European Pressurised Reactor that’s being built at Hinkley Point – and which is considered a new design, were being done in the mid-nineties. So of the long list of companies with concepts for SMRs, how many of those will ever get built, and in how many decades? From a climate change perspective, speed matters. We don’t want to accelerate nuclear power at the expense of safety, but at the moment it is going to take too long to bring any of these new reactors online.

Here in the UK, there is one firm that is synonymous with SMRs, and that’s Rolls Royce. Any article on the subject in the UK will mention Rolls Royce and often illustrate the article with a glossy picture of their proposed design – as I’ve done above. What’s odd about this is that Rolls Royce’s design isn’t a small modular reactor. It’s being called that because it’s a buzzword, but it’s 470Mw in capacity. That’s smaller than Hinkley Point C at 3,300Mw, but it’s a whole lot larger than what is generally called an SMR.

Neither does it use modular reactors to achieve its larger power output. What Rolls Royce is doing is using modular construction techniques to build a traditional reactor a bit quicker. On Michael Liebriech’s Cleaning Up podcast, the CEO of Rolls Royce described it as “a Lego kit of parts” for building a nuclear reactor. So it’s not actually an SMR, but why not call it one if you can tap government funding by pretending it is?

Looking at where we are at the moment, I expect there will be a new generation of smaller nuclear power stations at some point in the future. I expect China will do it first, and that the economies of scale will happen there. If it ever reaches the UK, it will be a few years away.

A more urgent question is whether or not a new generation of nuclear power will happen in time to make a difference to climate change. That looks far less certain.

First published in The Earthbound Report.

May 3, 2023 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK | Leave a comment

Nuclear waste from small modular reactors – Simon Daigle comments on recent article

Simon J DaigleB.Sc., M.Sc., M.Sc.(A) Concerned Canadian Citizen. Occupational / Industrial Hygienist, Epidemiologist. Climatologist / Air quality expert (Topospheric Ozone). 27 Apr 23

A recent article on SMRs in 2022 on potential nuclear waste risks and other proximate information on industrial and hazardous waste streams globally [References 2 to 5] below.

Nuclear waste from small modular reactors. PNAS Publication. Lindsay M. Kralla, Allison M. Macfarlaneb, and Rodney C. Ewinga. Edited by Eric J. Schelter, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; received June 26, 2021; accepted March 17, 2022 by Editorial Board Member Peter J. Rossky.

Simon Daigle comments:

  • Development of SMRs have security issues and threats globally according to many experts including Dr Gordon Edwards (CCNR).
  • SMR will produce more toxic radionuclides and waste stream analysis for potential SMR wastes streams are unknown in Canada and currently the Canadian government have no plans to complete this analysis yet or confirmed by an environmental impact assessment.
  • SMR development and potential nuclear wastes generated will be extremely dangerous and toxic comparatively with current NPP SNF and other LILW [Ref. 1].
  • SMR nuclear waste challenges of DGR disposal risks are unknown and are technically difficult to achieve even with safety assurances by governments globally, even more so for current nuclear wastes from NPP and other nuclear waste streams such as medical radiological waste streams.
  • On a global scale, industrial and hazardous wastes are mismanaged to a point where poor countries are the favored territories to dump industry’s hazardous and industrial wastes because of poor regulatory or no regulatory legal framework to be followed by industries and corporations [Ref. 5].
  • Global governments want to take on industrial and hazardous wastes for a financial benefit with no real ROI (Return on Investment) for any government or taxpayer when industrial waste companies know they can make a profit and unfortunately, the environment and population health in that country are impacted considerably without their own government helping out [Ref. 5]. This is also the case for nuclear wastes independent of point of origin and all coming from the nuclear industry’s operators, and similar industrial and hazardous waste operators on global scale.
  • SMR development (and use) will have the same problems in disadvantaged poor or rich country that will accept SMR as a technology, and the result of  a “free for all” dumping ground for nuclear waste that the nuclear industry chooses to dump on will inevitably happen in time. Poor countries are not equipped to deal with hazardous and industrial wastes generally to begin with and especially true for nuclear waste or any potential SMR waste streams.
  • Hazardous wastes are already a problem in the province of Alberta. Alberta’s Oil Patch lands are contaminated and polluted to a point where taxpayers are on the hook for 260 billion dollars for the clean-up estimated in 2018 by one Alberta accountability office (Alberta Energy Regulator) [Ref. 2]. This figure is likely even higher in 2023. You could put a “financial” and hazardous caution tape all around Alberta for all the taxpayers in that province.
  • If Alberta cannot clean the oil sands and patches, with its hazardous waste legacy coming from the oil industry because of failed financial securities, including the federal government oversight, we will also have a difficult time resolving any SMR nuclear waste issues and existing NPP nuclear waste streams and/or contaminated oil patch lands over decades or millennia as we are already having a difficult time resolving nuclear waste issues in Canada. The short-term benefit has always been profits for corporations and the Alberta taxpayer inherits the legacy waste [Ref. 2]
  • International law is clearly inadequate for oil tanker spill accidents, oil platforms, oil exploration, under water gas pipelines, etc. Governments rely on corporate “citizenship” and due-diligence but we have already learned these failures over time with so much damages to the environment and to the population including maritime nuclear waste transport in international waters by nuclear merchants and inadequate insurance and financial securities. [Ref. 4].
  • The impact of any nuclear waste accident or incident in open international waters by a nuclear waste operator independent of origin will be the same in the biosphere, financially and ecologically. It is highly likely to occur in time because there is no adequate emergency and contingency plan that exists with international agencies, corporations or governments including adequate financial insurance and securities [Ref. 4] to cover the damages.  Very few international ocean cargo shippers accept to transport nuclear waste to any destinations because of the risks (including threats to security) with inadequate insurance and financial liabilities from any point of origin during an accident in international waters. So, who will pay the damages? No one.
  • We have yet not cleared the lost nuclear bombs from WWII from the ocean floor so this makes you wonder who will take care of these nuclear wastes and other hazardous materials in time?  Will it be IAEA or other international agency such as the IMO (International Maritime Organization). These hazardous and nuclear wastes, including lost nuclear warheads from WWII, in international waters are left to live on the ocean floor for archeologist to discover the “why they were lost” or “left there” to begin with in time [Ref. 3]. They are all plainly left out of sight for anyone to see. These lost nuclear warheads and similar weapons lost at sea remain a serious explosion hazard and ocean contamination is happening to this very day.
  • If we can’t resolve current nuclear waste issues in Canada, and globally, we won’t be able to resolve (ever) new development of SMR technology accompanied with even more toxic nuclear wastes, as history showed us, we simply can’t.
  • Similarly, we can’t even resolve our current issues for any hazardous and industrial wastes in Canada or globally, because somehow, somewhere, someone will inherit these wastes indefinitely in their backyard including all of its impacts on the biosphere and the general population. One example is clearly worrisome for Alberta with a 260 billion CDN clean up cost in 2018 in which will remain indefinitely [Ref. 2].
  • Industries and governments are spreading hazardous wastes and pollution through a thin layer across the globe (air, water and soil), some thicker in concentration and toxicity in different geographic zones and all for a profit by corporations and industries. The population is always disadvantaged.
  • In Feb 2023, one article proposed nuclear energy for maritime shipping and we are now looking at it to decarbonize international maritime transport, such as nuclear merchant ships, while further complicating nuclear risks and harm in international waters with nuclear pollution, risks and harm where insurance and financial securities are inadequate to this very day. [Ref. 4]. This is ridiculous to even consider given the risks and legacy waste generated but this article’s authors are from China where the government is planning to expand the nuclear industry.
  • While NPP plants are decommissioning in some countries, we will se more advanced countries looking to take on nuclear waste processing and waste management and all will require land and ocean transportation.
  • Air transport of nuclear materials or wastes are possible with air transport according to IATA (International Air Transport Association in Montreal) but are limited to Low Specific Activity (LSA) and Shipping Low-Level Radioactive Waste but we won’t see that happening on a large scale because of the obvious threats. IATA also provides information to irradiated individuals (from a source other than medical diagnosis or treatment) that needs to travel in order to reach a suitable treatment facility and new guidance was provided in 2011 by IATA.
  • Usually, airlines do not know about radiation from within the body resulting from diagnostic procedures or may not know about contamination of an individual by radioactive material on the skin or clothes and the aviation industry monitoring these activities are inadequate. Just to add my personal experience, in 2006, I had a flight to New Baltimore (US) (within the US) to conduct an EHS audit for a company, and by curiosity, I noticed one traveller was equipped with medical equipment and I asked the flight attendant if there are any radionuclides in the equipment (with a radioactive symbol) or if the passenger had received oncology radiation treatment recently, and the answer was “I don’t know”! So I picked another seat in a different row but the other passengers were oblivious so I kept to myself the question that I even asked until the plane touchdown.  Yes, people undergoing radiation treatment can be hazardous to family members at home and on flights. I won’t explain today, I will let an oncologist explain if one is brave and keen to explain.
  • Self-governance by corporations is not acceptable for nuclear, hazardous and industrial wastes, and that includes the nuclear industry.
  • The Canadian Government must adopt and practice better foresight, insight, hindsight, and oversight with SMRs and nuclear wastes with clear Authority, Accountability and Responsibility for Canadians and indigenous peoples, by Canadians and by indigenous peoples.
  • Governments are not playing by their own rules as well for preventing the production of nuclear waste, nuclear risks or reducing harm and not even following IAEA’s ALARA principle “As Low as Reasonably Achievable”. It’s ironic and all for profit in which is a clear negative financially from the get go, even decades, for any taxpayer or any government.

April 30, 2023 Posted by | Canada, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, wastes | Leave a comment

Rolls Royce shares OK for civil aviation, but investment in small nuclear reactors is risky

Will going nuclear send Rolls-Royce shares into meltdown?

Dr James Fox takes a closer look at Rolls-Royce shares. What’s next for the British engineering giant after the recent rally came to an end in March?

The Motley Fool, Dr. James Fox 23 Apr 23

Rolls-Royce (LSE:RR) shares have been red-hot in recent months, going from strength to strength. But the FTSE 100 stock has plateaued since March.

So what could drive the share price forward in the coming years? Could it be Rolls-Royce’s entry into the nuclear space?

Rolls-Royce (LSE:RR) shares have been red-hot in recent months, going from strength to strength. But the FTSE 100 stock has plateaued since March.

So what could drive the share price forward in the coming years? Could it be Rolls-Royce’s entry into the nuclear space?

For some, the jury is out on the future profitability of the modular nuclear reactor programme — the plan was given government approval and funding last year.

………. In theory, Rolls would ‘mass produce’ these small reactors, with a capacity of 470MW, and sell them for around £2bn.

………..there are challenges. First among them are reports that the UK government is preparing to invite international bids for next-generation nuclear power projects, thus removing its backing for Rolls-Royce’s product in development.

With billions of forecast development costs, it would be disastrous if the government started to favour other companies — the share price would really suffer.

What matters more?

The nuclear programme is interesting but, in reality, other sectors are more important — for now at least. In the near term, I’m hoping to see more signs of the recovery in civil aviation. This is Rolls’ biggest sector and a post-pandemic recovery will propel the company forward.

…………………..Despite the risks in the SMR space, I’m not fearing a share price meltdown.

April 24, 2023 Posted by | business and costs, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK | Leave a comment

Terrestrial Energy’s molten-salt reactor gets over one hurdle – but many more to come. Will it be a lemon?

Terrestrial Energy’s molten-salt reactor clears prelicensing review, Globe and Mail, MATTHEW MCCLEARN, APRIL 19, 2023

Nuclear-reactor developer Terrestrial Energy has completed a prelicensing review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, an early milestone along the road to commercialization of its next-generation product.

The Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) is the first of its kind to finish the CNSC process known as a vendor design review. Whereas conventional reactors use solid fuel, this novel variety features liquid fuel dissolved in molten salt that’s heated to temperatures above 600 degrees.

The review, which began in 2016, is intended to provide feedback to reactor vendors in the early stages of development, but does not confer a licence to build one. CNSC staff found “no fundamental barriers to licensing,” signalling their willingness to entertain next-generation designs radically different from Canada’s aging fleet of Candu reactors………..

 the CNSC’s high-level findings, published Tuesday, highlight the challenges ahead. It called on Terrestrial to provide more information to confirm that the IMSR meets safety requirements. Sensors, monitoring equipment, instrumentation and control systems all need to be further developed……………

” you see a lot of engineering questions that have to be followed up on.” -Akira Tokuhiro, a professor at Ontario Tech’s energy and nuclear engineering department. 

Prof. Tokuhiro said answering those questions means Terrestrial (which currently employs about 100 people) will need to grow its engineering staff. NuScale Power, an early developer of small modular reactors (SMR) founded in 2007, stands alone in achieving certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It needed 500 staff and US$1-billion to accomplish that, said Prof. Tokuhiro, who previously served as an engineer at NuScale.

“There have been SMR startups – I won’t name names – where the company and investors quit when they got to the point of going from 50 engineers to 500 engineers on payroll,” he said.

Prof. Tokuhiro estimated that fewer than 20 people throughout North America possess deep experience with molten salt technologies, making it difficult to find qualified workers. Moreover, Terrestrial will likely need to build a demonstration unit – another expensive undertaking.

“It has to be a facility that’s quality assured and quality controlled,” he said. “And it has to be able to produce data that the regulator accepts.”……..

nitially developed in the 1950s and 60s, molten salt reactors never operated commercially but have lately enjoyed renewed interest. The U.S. Department of Energy funded two small demonstration projects, and the Canadian government provided tens of millions of dollars to each of Terrestrial and Moltex Energy, another startup, based in New Brunswick, that’s marketing a model known as the Stable Salt Reactor – Wasteburner (SSR-W).

According to a 2021 report about advanced nuclear reactors by the Union of Concerned Scientists, molten salt reactors are “even less mature” than other novel designs such as sodium-cooled and gas-cooled reactors.

That report – entitled Advanced Isn’t Always Better– concluded they were “significantly worse” than traditional light-water reactors in terms of safety and the risk of nuclear proliferation and terrorism, but acknowledged that some molten salt reactors would generate less hazardous waste than conventional models.

“MSR fuels pose unique safety issues,” the report concluded. “Not only is the hot liquid fuel highly corrosive, but it is also difficult to model its complex behaviour as its flows through a reactor system. If cooling is interrupted, the fuel can heat up and destroy an MSR in a matter of minutes.

“Perhaps the most serious safety flaw is that, in contrast to solid-fuelled reactors, MSRs routinely release large quantities of gaseous fission products, which must be trapped and stored.”

The nuclear industry has precious few small modular reactors available for sale today, but is under intense pressure to bring new ones to market quickly to capitalize on an anticipated surge in demand for low-carbon electricity. Yet recent reactors based on conventional technologies took longer than 30 years to develop, license and build, and some ran disastrously overbudget…………………………………….

April 22, 2023 Posted by | Canada, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

Russia to set up a small nuclear reactor in the Arctic Republic of Sakha

Rosatom and the Corporation for the Development of the Far East and the
Arctic have signed a cooperation agreement relating to the construction of
a Russian small nuclear reactor power plant in the Republic of Sakha (also
known as Yakutia).

World Nuclear News 18th April 2023

April 21, 2023 Posted by | ARCTIC, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

‘It’s time to pump the brakes on reintroduction of nuclear energy to Trawsfynydd’

By Patrick O’Brien  |   Columnist   |Sunday 16th April 2023

‘It’s time to pump the brakes on reintroduction of nuclear energy to
Trawsfynydd’. Giving SMRs a clean bill of health in advance of any
researched-based demonstration that such is justified is bad enough, but en
route there is a sweeping assertion about the utter desirability of all
nuclear power – past and present.

For any deniers of the proposition, this
is a meltdown moment. SMRs, which can generate up to 300 megawatts, or
about two-thirds less than traditional nuclear power reactors. They are
claimed to be safer because of increased use of smart innovative technology
and inherent safety features.

So how solid is the SMR safety case? The
jury’s out. In 2021, the intergovernmental Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA)
established an expert group on SMRs “to handle safety challenges and
develop a solid scientific basis which supports safety demonstration of the
advanced and innovative technologies used for SMRs”.

But the NEA is clear
that much research on safety remains to be done. The Welsh Government,
meanwhile, is brimming over with enthusiasm, insisting its proposed project
will become essential for the diagnosis and treatment of a number of
diseases, and that its north Wales facility would be a global centre of
excellence in nuclear medicine, making Wales the leading location for
medical radioisotope production in the UK, leading to the creation of
highly skilled jobs over several decades.

But it’s time to slow down. The
NEA’s reticence on safety means it’s necessary for the government – and
Patrick Loxdale – to take a deep breath and, no doubt with difficulty,
reserve judgment.

Cambrian News 15th April 2023

April 17, 2023 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, UK | Leave a comment

U.S. Senate Weighs Big Plans for Small Reactors 

NRC reporting on alternative sources of nuclear fuel, in particular, would be especially noteworthy for SMR developers. Fueling most SMR designs is so-called high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), which has a higher uranium-235 content than larger reactors’ fuel. Currently, the world’s only commercial HALEU provider is TENEX, a Russian state-owned company: a source that has become particularly problematic in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Licensing a more geopolitically tenable HALEU supply chain, then, is a priority for any U.S.-based SMR project.

The Price-Anderson Act’s present iteration expires in 2025, and time is ticking. Lawmakers can certainly renew it elsewhere.

But a failure to renew it would throw the entire nuclear industry into uncertainty—SMRs included—potentially delaying deployment,

The ADVANCE Act could give nuclear SMR developers more than a few advancements

RAHUL RAO, 15 Apr 23 IEEE Spectrum,

Small modular reactors (SMRs) power many of today’s nuclear enthusiasts’ clean-energy dreams. ………….

In the U.S., SMR designers, operators, and fuel suppliers must all pass the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the U.S. government’s nuclear arbiter. Unfortunately, SMRs don’t fit neatly into the NRC’s aged regulatory scheme, one built for old and established large reactors. That’s at least part of the reason why, on 3 April, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators unveiled the ADVANCE Act, a bill containing a package of nuclear reforms.

Anyone hoping for total renovation of the NRC will be disappointed; the act retains the philosophy that NRC approval is necessary. But the act would order a platter of small, subtle changes to the NRC’s innards. At least some SMR proponents are optimistic that—if the act passes—those changes could smooth the ways for a growing number of SMR developers.

…………. For one, applicants today must pay around $300 for each hour of the NRC’s time. When a single review can take tens of thousands of hours, these fees pile up. Larger firms like Rolls-Royce might be able to afford them, but smaller SMR developers—more than a few of them nascent startups—may struggle. The act would offset some of those costs: around half, according to an NIA estimate.

The act would also establish prizes. “Those prizes involve the first [developers] going through the different regulatory frameworks that the NRC has,” says Erik Cothron, an analyst at the NIA. For instance, the bill would reward the first reactor designer to receive the stamp of Part 53, a new SMR-specific licensing process that Congress ordered the NRC to create in 2018.

Nuclear-themed prizes may make for a fun day at the fair, but their dividends are more than short-term. The prizes, the NIA analysts say, would also pay back developers who might have to bear with a sluggish NRC whose regulators are themselves still learning how to navigate new regulatory routes.

Additionally, the act would require reports on several NRC-related topics, such as: how to license nuclear reactors for applications beyond electricity (such as heating); how to speed up approvals for reactors at previously developed “brownfield” sites (such as depreciated fossil fuel power plants); and how effectively the NRC might license alternative sources of nuclear fuel.

Reports like these might seem like busywork for bureaucrats, but analysts say they serve an important risk-reducing role, giving SMR developers (and investors) a clearer picture of and more confidence in the path ahead.

NRC reporting on alternative sources of nuclear fuel, in particular, would be especially noteworthy for SMR developers. Fueling most SMR designs is so-called high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), which has a higher uranium-235 content than larger reactors’ fuel. Currently, the world’s only commercial HALEU provider is TENEX, a Russian state-owned company: a source that has become particularly problematic in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Licensing a more geopolitically tenable HALEU supply chain, then, is a priority for any U.S.-based SMR project.

Of course, all speculation is moot unless the ADVANCE Act clears Congress.

The Act isn’t Congress’s first recent recent attempt at nuclear reforms. The ADVANCE Act shares multiple provisions and supporters with an earlier bill called the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA), first introduced in 2020. However, ANIA never saw the light of legislative day.

The Act isn’t Congress’s first recent recent attempt at nuclear reforms. The ADVANCE Act shares multiple provisions and supporters with an earlier bill called the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act (ANIA), first introduced in 2020. However, ANIA never saw the light of legislative day.

If the ADVANCE Act followed ANIA’s fate, it wouldn’t deal a mortal wound to SMR developers. But one of the ADVANCE Act’s other provisions is crucial to U.S. nuclear energy as a whole: It would renew the Price-Anderson Act, which mandates civilian nuclear plants carry insurance that would compensate members of the public for severe accidents.

The Price-Anderson Act’s present iteration expires in 2025, and time is ticking. Lawmakers can certainly renew it elsewhere. But a failure to renew it would throw the entire nuclear industry into uncertainty—SMRs included—potentially delaying deployment, according to Adam Stein, an analyst at the Breakthrough Institute think tank, which helped give input on earlier drafts of the bill’s text.

April 15, 2023 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

The Pros And Cons of Modular Nuclear Reactors

By Leonard Hyman & William Tilles – Apr 10, 2023

  • Customization in nuclear power led to isolated and non-transferable experiences and limited the industry’s growth.
  • Small modular reactors are a new approach that allows for standardization and assembly line efficiency, but also offer logistical and funding challenges.
  • The future of nuclear energy could rely, in part, on the development and implementation of small modular reactors.

Did you ever get the feeling that you’ve seen this movie before, except with another name? The remake, maybe in color this time or with a younger cast? Well, nothing wrong with recycling but not when you get the uncomfortable notion that the actors don’t know that somebody did it before them. 

Take nuclear power What went wrong last time around? We suggest that a principal culprit was customization. Almost every utility wanted a nuke tailored to its needs, site by site. Thus, each site had its own problems, and solving them produced little experience that helped anywhere else.

France, of course, was the main exception. The French state, which owned the utility, settled on one design and repeated it again and again. Of course, the French utility had the scale that U.S. and British’s utilities lacked. And the French never shied from dirigisme, state control of the economy. If the government planned to finance, subsidize and insure the industry, it might as well specify what it wanted. Not so in the USA, where we didn’t want the government to tell utilities what to buy, although we had no problem subsidizing and insuring whatever they built. 

Today, we applaud the efforts to design nuclear power stations of smaller size, which will achieve economies of scale by constructing identical equipment in a manufacturing setting and shipping the modules to the construction site where they will be assembled. We have yet to establish whether the modular units will be substantially cheaper, and we have a good idea that most of the designs will not solve the nuclear waste problem. We are still determining whether the public will accept the new nukes more warmly than the old ones, too. But we are confident that builders will have less money at risk in any one piece of machinery, which is good. 

Here’s our worry. There are at least 21 announced small modular reactor technologies ( as we wrote in a previous report), some with big-name tech backers. It is almost as if some tech entrepreneurs that can no longer find app start-ups to fund have plunged into nuclear energy.

Now, let’s do some rough numbers. There are 439 nuclear power plants in the world (92 in the USA, 56 in France, 54 in China and 37 in Russia, 33 in Japan, and 24 in South Korea). Over the coming 20 years, we believe most of these reactors will have to be retired, some in extreme old age. Figure that the new units might average one-tenth to one-quarter the size of the old ones.

So maybe a requirement for 4000 units over 20 years. Or 200 units per year. Divide that by 20 different designs. If each producer got an equal share, that would mean ten units per year. We don’t know but have to ask whether that number would yield financing for a factory that could achieve economies of scale.

Now add on the nationalism and security issues. Should we expect the USA, France, Russia and China to buy from foreign sources? If they require in-country sourcing, it is more difficult for any manufacturer to achieve real scale. The contestable market for manufacturers might be closer to 100 units per year, maybe less. That might not give room for manufacturing economies of scale. 

We do not expect to see reliable analyses of the manufacturing costs of SMRs for some time, if ever, because the information would be a competitive secret. We are not even sure that current cost estimates are reliable, as opposed to come-ons to bring in generator companies to sign memoranda of interest, which are not contracts but might convince backers to put up money to build a factory.

 However, let’s assume that manufacturing a reactor in a factory is not much different than manufacturing an airplane or automobile. Each facility ( or firm) has a U-shaped or saucer shaped cost curve. That is, cost per unit is high when volume is low, hits a low point at a a given volume, and then, eventually rises as the firm hits diseconomies of scale. [graph on original]

Average cost per unit at given production volumes

Let’s say that the total market per year for the product is 200 units. With the optimal, low-cost-per-unit production point at 50-60 units, the market couldn’t support more than four manufacturers. Whether the nuclear market can support 21 or four manufacturers depends on presently unknown manufacturing cost curves. As good capitalists, you might ask why consumers should care if a bunch of manufacturers put up plants and don’t get enough business to support them and then go under.

Well, there are several reasons. For one, we don’t want manufacturers hard up for orders and profits to skimp on the production process. The nuclear plant had better operate safely. Second, owners of nukes will need decades of service. Would they buy plants from manufacturers that look like they might not be around when needed? 

 Third, considering the financial consequences of outages, would they want to take a chance on a cheaper unit or rather pay up for perceived quality? Fourth, and most importantly, would government watchdogs encourage a proliferation of designs, making their jobs harder?

We don’t expect many of these SMR providers to get off the ground, especially if the government, the real backer of the industry, decides to opt for uniformity in order to get economies of scale in manufacturing and in regulation. In short, we’d put our money on the big names with long years of servicing their products. 

Finally, SMRs, while welcome, neither substantially reduce nuclear costs nor cure the waste disposal problem, although they should reduce the financial burden inherent in big nuclear projects. In other words, they seem like a better way to pursue nuclear energy, which remains the most expensive, environmentally controversial, non-carbon producer. Is there a better way? 

April 11, 2023 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, USA | Leave a comment

Canadian First Nations do not want small nuclear reactors on their lands

Decolonizing energy and the nuclear narrative of small modular reactors
Kebaowek First Nation is calling for an alternative to a planned SMR project, one that won’t undermine proper consultation and leave a toxic legacy.

by Lance Haymond, Tasha Carruthers, Kerrie Blaise, February 7, 2022  In early 2021, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission began reviewing the application from a company called Global First Power to build a nuclear reactor at the Chalk River Laboratories site about 200 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

This project, known as a micro modular reactor project, is an example of the nuclear industry’s latest offering – a small modular reactor (SMR).SMRs are based on the same fundamental physical processes as regular (large) nuclear reactors; they just produce less electricity per plant. They also produce the same dangerous byproducts: plutonium and radioactive fission products (materials that are created by the splitting of uranium nuclei). These are all dangerous to human health and have to be kept away from contact with people and communities for hundreds of thousands of years. No country has so far demonstrated a safe way to deal with these.

Despite these unsolved challenges, the nuclear industry promotes SMRs and nuclear energy as a carbon-free alternative to diesel for powering remote northern communities. The Canadian government has exempted small modular reactors from full federal environmental assessment under the Impact Assessment Act. Many civil society groups have condemned this decision because it allows SMRs to escape the public scrutiny of environmental, health and social impacts.

The proposed new SMR in Chalk River, like the existing facilities, would be located on Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation territory and the lands of Kebaowek First Nation – a First Nation that has never been consulted about the use of its unceded territory and that has been severely affected by past nuclear accidents at the site.

At this critical juncture of climate action and Indigenous reconciliation, Kebaowek First Nation is calling for the SMR project at Chalk River to be cancelled and the focus shifted to solutions that do not undermine the ability of First Nations communities to be properly consulted and that do not leave behind a toxic legacy.

While these reactors are dubbed “small,” it would be a mistake to assume their environmental impact is also “small.” The very first serious nuclear accident in the world involved a small reactor: In 1952, uranium fuel rods in the NRX reactor at Chalk River melted down and the accident led to the release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere and the soil. In 1958, the same reactor suffered another accident when a uranium rod caught fire; some workers exposed to radiation continue to battle for compensation.

What makes these accidents worse – and calls into question the justification for new nuclear development at Chalk River – is that this colonized land is the territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation territory (which consists of 11 First Nations whose territory stretches along the entire Ottawa River watershed straddling Quebec and Ontario). Kebaowek First Nation, part of the Algonquin Nation, was among those First Nations never consulted about the original nuclear facilities on their unceded territory, and is still struggling to be heard by the federal government and nuclear regulator. Its land has never been relinquished through treaty; its leaders and people were never consulted when Chalk River was chosen as the site for Canada’s first nuclear reactors; and no thought was given to how the nuclear complex might affect the Kitchi Sibi (the Ottawa River).

History is being repeated at Chalk River today as the government pushes ahead with the micro modular reactor project without consent from Kebaowek. Assessments of the project have been scoped so narrowly that they neglect the historical development and continued existence of nuclear facilities on Kebaowek’s traditional territory. The justification for an SMR at this location without full and thorough consideration of historically hosted nuclear plants – for which there was no consultation nor accommodation – is a tenuous starting point and one that threatens the protection of Indigenous rights.

The narrative of nuclear energy in Canada is one of selective storytelling and one that hides the reality of the Indigenous communities that remain deeply affected, first by land being taken away for nuclear reactor construction, and later by the radioactive pollution at the site. All too fitting is the term radioactive colonialism coined by scholars Ward Churchill and Winona LaDuke, to describe the disproportionate impact on Indigenous people and their land as a result of uranium mining and other nuclear developments. In country after country, the uranium that fuels nuclear plants has predominantly been mined from the traditional lands of Indigenous Peoples at the expense of the health of Indigenous Peoples and their self-determination.

Kebaowek First Nation has been vocal in its objection to the continuation of the nuclear industry on its lands without its free prior and informed consent, as is its right under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Despite requests for the suspension of the SMR project, pending adequate provisions for Indigenous co-operation and the Crown’s legal duty to initiate meaningful consultation, Kebaowek has yet to see its efforts reflected in government decisions and Crown-led processes.

Nuclear is a colonial energy form, but it is also bio-ignorant capitalism – a term coined by scholars Renata Avila and Andrés Arauz to describe the ways in which the current economic order ignores the planetary climate emergency, human and ecological tragedies, and the large-scale impact on nature. The narrative of nuclear as a “clean energy source” is a prime example of this bio-ignorance. Decision-makers have become fixated on carbon emissions as a metric for “clean and green,” ignoring the radioactive impacts and the risks of accidents with the technology.

It is more than 70 years since Chalk River became the site for the splitting of the nucleus. The continuation of nuclear energy production on unceded Indigenous territory without meaningful dialogue is a telling example of continued colonial practices, wherein companies extract value from Indigenous land while polluting it; offer little to no compensation to impacted communities; and abide by timelines driven by the project’s proponents, not the community affected. We need to move away from this colonial model of decision-making and decolonize our energy systems.

The challenge of climate change is urgent, but responses to the crisis must not perpetuate extractivist solutions, typical of colonial thinking, wherein the long-term impacts – from the production of toxic waste to radioactive releases – lead to highly unequal impacts.

The authors thank Justin Roy, councilor and economic development officer at Kebaowek First Nation, and M.V. Ramana, professor at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, for contributing to this article.

April 2, 2023 Posted by | Canada, indigenous issues, opposition to nuclear, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors may not be the holy grail for energy security, net zero

So, if SMRs are the current political flavour of the month, how have we reached this position when there is still no formal approval of the technology from regulators, let alone practical evidence of how it can operate in the real world?

It’s possible to achieve both energy security and the UK’s climate goals without blowing the budget on next-gen nuclear technologies, according to Andrew Warren.

Andrew Warren, Chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation.

Electrical Review covered in-depth the array of announcements that were made during the Spring Budget, but there was arguably one announcement above all that was most pertinent to the net zero drive. That was when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt reconfirmed – for the fifth time – that the Government intends to create a new Great British Nuclear agency. 

It is a name that of itself may bring comfort to all those living on the nuclear-free island of Ireland.

So what will this agency do? Well, the Chancellor explained that, when launched, it will run a competition this year for the UK’s first Small Modular Reactor (SMR). The plan is for it to eventually award £1 billion in co-funding to a winner to build out an SMR plan.

This competition has some distinct echoes. Back in March 2016, the Government launched a competition to identify the best value SMR design for the UK. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever claimed that prize, of £250 million.

This re-announcement prompted me to consider the background to this Budget announcement.

It comes at a time in which private sector funding for larger nuclear power stations is proving to be extremely difficult. There is a lengthy list of large pension funds that have publicly refused to get involved with providing capital for the hapless Sizewell C pressurised water reactor project in Suffolk. Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is rumoured to be promoting the inclusion of SMRs within the European green investment taxonomy, whilst simultaneously excluding pressurised water reactors which make up most of the existing nuclear fleet.

So, if SMRs are the current political flavour of the month, how have we reached this position when there is still no formal approval of the technology from regulators, let alone practical evidence of how it can operate in the real world?

In January, the UK Government announced that six SMR vendors had applied for their designs to be formally assessed with a view to commercialisation in Britain. The companies have joined a much publicised Rolls-Royce-led consortium and will be subjected to an assessment process carried out by the UK’s Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR), which will look in exhaustive detail at reactor designs proposed for construction.

Designs that successfully complete the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) – which is expected to take between four and five years – will then be ready to be built anywhere in the country, subject to meeting site-specific requirements. 

Why do we need new reactor designs? 

Recent results of orders placed for larger nukes are uniformly poor, with reactors invariably late and over budget. Some of the worst cases, notorious projects in Olkiluoto, Finland and Flamanville, France, have seen construction periods of 18 years and costs of three to four times above the expected level.

So, SMRs are being increasingly seen as the new saviours for the nuclear industry. This category embodies a range of technologies, uses and sizes, but relies heavily on features that were the selling points for larger designs. They are smaller than current stations which produce 1,200MW to 1,700MW of electricity. Instead, sizes range from 3MW to about 500MW. The Rolls-Royce design is a 470MW pressurised water reactor, which is bigger than one of the reactors at Fukushima in Japan that suffered serious damage in the 2011 tsunami.

These advanced designs are not new – sodium-cooled fast reactors and high temperature reactors were built as prototypes in the 1950s and 1960s – but successive attempts to build demonstration plants have been short-lived failures. It is hard to see why these technologies should now succeed given their poor record.

A particular usage envisaged for some of the technologies is production of hydrogen. However, as Professor Stephen Thomas of Greenwich University recently pointed out to me, to produce hydrogen efficiently, reactors would need to provide heat at 900°C. This, he said, is “a temperature not yet achieved in any power reactor, not feasible for a pressurised water reactor or boiling water reactor and one that will require new exotic and expensive materials.”

Developers of SMRs like to give the impression that their designs are ready to build, the technology proven, the economic case established and all that is holding them back is Government inactivity. However, taking a reactor design from conception to commercial availability is a lengthy and expensive process taking more than a decade and certainly costing more than £1 billion.

How can the economics of SMRs be tested?

The main claim for SMRs over their predecessors is that being smaller, they can be made in factories as modules using cheaper production line techniques, rather than one-off component fabrication methods being used at Hinkley Point C. The idea is that the module would be delivered to the site on a truck essentially as a ‘flatpack’. This would avoid much of the on-site work which is notoriously difficult to manage and a major cause of the delays and cost overruns that every European large reactor project suffers from.

However, any savings made from factory-built modules will have to compensate for the scale economies lost. A 1,600MW reactor is likely to be much cheaper than 10 reactors of 160MW.

And it will be expensive to test the claim that production line techniques will compensate for lost scale economies. The first reactor constructed will need to be built using production lines if the economics are to be tested. But once the production lines are switched on, they must be fed. Rolls-Royce assumes its production lines will produce two reactors per year and that costs will not reach the target level until about the fifth order. So, if we assume the first reactor takes five years to build, there will be another nine reactors in various stages of construction before a single unit of electricity has been generated from the first, and the viability of the design tested.

This could mean that perhaps about 15 SMRs will need to be under construction before the so-called ‘nth of a kind’ settled-down cost is demonstrated. But once the initial go ahead is given, there will be pressure on the Government to continue to place orders before the design is technically and economically proven, so the production lines do not sit idle.

Will SMRs be a major contributor to meeting the UK’s climate change targets?

The selling point for nuclear power is that it is a relatively low-carbon source of power that can replace fossil fuel electricity generation in the UK and elsewhere. However, by the time SMRs might be deployable in significant numbers, realistically after 2035, it will be too late for them to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity is acknowledged to be the easiest sector to decarbonise. If the whole economy is to reach net zero emissions by 2050, then this sector will have to reach that point long before then, probably by 2035. So SMRs appear to be too little, too late.

There is also a fear that SMRs will create more waste than conventional reactors, according to a study recently published in Proceedings of the American National Academy of Sciences. The research notes that SMRs would create far more radioactive waste, per unit of electricity they generate, than conventional reactors by a factor of up to 30. Some of these smaller reactors, with molten salt and sodium-cooled designs, are expected to create waste that needs to go through additional conditioning to make it safe to store in a repository.

And yet, despite the past failures of nuclear power and increasing public scepticism, there remains an appetite within the British Government to give the nuclear industry one more chance.

It remains to be seen whether the Government follows its instinct to continue supporting the sector or whether the amount of public money at risk makes such a decision politically impossible, given the massive underwriting these projects require by consumers and taxpayers.

Nuclear’s specious claims

The claims being made for SMRs will be familiar to long-time observers of the nuclear industry: costs will be dramatically reduced; construction times will be shortened; safety will be improved; there are no significant technical issues to solve; nuclear is an essential element to our energy mix.

In the past such claims have proved hopelessly over-optimistic and there is no reason to believe results would turn out differently this time. Indeed, the nuclear industry may well see itself in this ‘last-chance saloon’.

The risk is not so much that large numbers of SMRs will be built; it is my belief that they won’t be. The risk is that, as in all the previous failed nuclear revivals, the fruitless pursuit of SMRs will divert resources away from options that are cheaper, at least as effective, much less risky, and better able to contribute to energy security and environmental goals. Given the climate emergency we face, surely it is time to finally turn our backs on this failing technology.

Andrew Warren is a former special advisor to the House of Commons environment committee. Special thanks to Greenwich University’s Professor Stephen Thomas for his advice for this piece.

April 1, 2023 Posted by | Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, spinbuster, UK | 2 Comments

Small nuclear reactors – the global hype and hoax continues, especially in Europe

Some 13 European Union countries including Italy on Tuesday signed a joint
declaration urging more research and innovation in the sector of mini
nuclear power reactors as part of a new alliance. The 13 EU countries,
including Italy, are calling for “a favourable industrial and financial
framework for nuclear projects”, promoting “research and innovation in
particular for small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors”.

 Ansa 28th March 2023

March 31, 2023 Posted by | EUROPE, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment