A new IAEA publication explores the role of small modular reactors (SMRs), around the globe, calling the plan to custom fit factory-built reactors into niche markets a potential game-changer in the challenge of lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
The 2020 edition of the biennial IAEA booklet Advances in Small Modular Reactor Technology Developments, published last month, provides the latest data and information on SMRs around the world, including detailed descriptions of 72 reactors under development or construction in 18 countries. Expanding on the previous edition, the booklet for the first time contains annexes on waste management and disposal as well as a section on microreactors, which are very small SMRs intended for niche applications.
"SMR's unique attributes in terms of efficiency, flexibility and economics may position them to play a key role in the clean energy transition,” said Stefano Monti, Head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Power Technology Development Section and moderator of a recent webinar marking the release of the publication. “Countries can use the updated booklet as an additional tool for identifying possible technological solutions to the challenges they face on energy, climate change and sustainable development.”
Unlike large power reactors, SMRs typically clock in at up to 300 MW(e) and are built largely from prefabricated components assembled on site. They are designed for less upfront capital and have wider financing schemes. Their modular nature also allows for scaling up capacity by adding units according to demand. SMRs may also be well suited to operate flexibly in tandem with variable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and for non-electric applications such as seawater desalination, district heating and hydrogen production.
While wider deployment of SMRs is expected to begin over the next decade, two reactor units of KLT-40S design are already in operation in Russia aboard the Akademik Lomonosov, a floating nuclear power plant (NPP). Two other SMR frontrunners in Argentina and China are due to begin operation within the next three years. Argentina, China and Russia presented their progress on SMR technology in the webinar.
Russia is also developing a land based SMR project planned for commissioning in 2027, according to Elena Pashina, Marketing Director for Rusatom Overseas. “SMR NPPs can provide electricity to remote areas and areas with grid restrictions at a favourable price as compared with alternatives and also satisfy growing energy needs,” she added.
Argentina is developing the CAREM SMR, with construction of the prototype nearing completion. The 25MW(e) CAREM utilizes natural circulation for cooling and includes passive safety features such as an automatic residual heat removal system. The CAREM, the first nuclear reactor designed entirely by Argentina, is intended for small electric grids and may also support seawater desalination.
China’s HTR-PM, a prototype high-temperature gas cooled SMR located in Shidao Bay, is slated to begin operation next year. The reactor is cooled by helium and capable of reaching temperatures as high as 750 degrees Celsius, making it suitable for non-electric applications such as district heating and hydrogen production. The HTR-PM is also designed with inherent safety features that reduce the risk of radioactive releases.
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