Research by Douglas-Westwood into recent technological advances in Small Modular Reactors (SMR) suggests they may provide a way to meet the challenges faced by both developed and developing countries in adding additional power generation capacity. These self-contained reactors are considered to be safer than conventional designs due to their smaller size (<300MW) and passive safety features, an important consideration post-Fukushima. Amongst the developers of this technology are Babcock & Wilcox, Westinghouse and NuScale.
A principle benefit of SMRs is that they can be easily integrated into grid networks which could not accommodate large conventional nuclear power facilities. It is hoped that the modular approach could lead to the build of reactors on a production line, allowing for quick deployment to potential customers, easier incremental capacity addition for users and potentially lower capital costs. Given the shorter lead-times and lower overall project costs, SMRs will make nuclear power more accessible where there are funding challenges for large projects. Projected lifetime costs of SMRs are could make them competitive with similar sized coal and gas plants.
The US DOE is supporting the industry through a funding initiative intended to commercially demonstrate an SMR design by 2022. In November 2012, the US DOE awarded Babcock & Wilcox $79 million with a second round of funding announced in March 2013, expected to be awarded in January 2014. Whilst commercial deployment is not expected until around 2025, there is significant potential to meet growing demand for power by making nuclear more accessible, particularly in countries that looking to quickly secure efficient and cleaner alternatives to fossil fuel.
Steve Robertson, Douglas-Westwood, London
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