National efforts to promote small modular nuclear reactors and revive nuclear power

Article by MV Ramana and Stephen Thomas published in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews.


Nuclear power plant construction has historically been challenged by problems of high cost, cost escalation, and construction delays. The newest set of large reactor projects have also been overbudget and overtime. This has prompted interest in new reactor technologies that proponents claim would not suffer these problems, specifically small modular reactors (SMRs), a class that encompasses a wide range of technologies. This article examines national efforts in three countries, Canada, the UK, and the United States, which are pursuing SMRs vigorously and where the government has funded their development generously. We compare the different strategies and foci of these national strategies, analyzing the various forms of support offered by the separate agencies of the government, and the private companies that are trying to develop SMRs. We also offer an overview of the different types of reactor technologies being pursued in these different countries. Following these, we outline the main challenge confronting SMR technologies: their ability to generate electricity in an economically competitive manner, highlighting the problems resulting from economies of scale being lost. By examining the experience so far, we find that even designs based on well-tested technology cannot be deployed till after 2030 and the more radical designs might never be.

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