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Small Modular Reactors

February 3, 2015

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have been seen as possibly rescuing the U.S. nuclear power industry.

B&W, NuScale and others have sought grants from the Department of Energy for developing SMRs. SMRs were a hot concept three years ago as possible alternatives for large nuclear power plants, but interest in SMRs in the United States has cooled.

It’s very likely that all existing nuclear reactors in the United States will be shut down by the end of this century, and many people thought SMRs could take their place. See U.S. Nuclear Demise Amid Increases Elsewhere.

Most U.S. reactors are rated around 1,000 MW, while SMRs would range in size from 25 MW to 300 MW.

SMRs have the advantage of being installed underground and located near where power is needed. They would also be built in factories in modular units to reduce construction time and help lower cost.

NuScale SMR

NuScale SMR

It now appears as though their cost, at $6,000 per KW, will be no better than the cost of building new large reactors, such as the four being built in Georgia and South Carolina.

A major advantage of SMRs may be their ability to obtain funding because their smaller size results in lower total cost for building each reactor.

Giorgio Locatelli, University of Lincoln, United Kingdom, has studied SMRs and concluded they are best suited for use in developing countries.

Smaller size suits the initially smaller demand for electricity in dispersed areas in developing countries, coupled with the ability to secure international funding with less money needed to build each SMR.

SMRs are being built in several countries.

Argentina is building a 25 MW SMR, about 60 miles north of Buenos Aires, at a cost of over $400 million, which equates to around $17,000 per KW, a huge sum, but justified because of its being the first unit, experimental in nature.

China is building two experimental SMRs. Russia is continuing to pursue SMRs, and was an early adopter. Russia has an SMR on a barge that can be moved to where power is needed, and also an SMR powering an ice breaker.

South Korea is probably the farthest ahead in developing SMRs for commercial use, and are nearly ready to export their design to other countries.

SMRs, of course, were first developed for use in submarines, so SMRs are actually not a new concept.

While nuclear power will likely grow in China, India and elsewhere, it’s very likely that growth of nuclear power in the United States will be nonexistent, with decline already setting in.

Environmental organizations have generated an irrational fear of radiation and have been against nuclear power of any kind, even though it emits zero CO2.

It makes little sense to be against nuclear power if global warming is an existential threat to mankind, but this contradiction persists. See Destruction of America’s Nuclear Industry.

This contradiction now manifests itself in Europe where cutting CO2 emissions has been institutionalized, and where Germany is eliminating nuclear power and France is beginning to cut its growth.

This contradiction has important implications.

Billions of people lack adequate access to electricity, such as these:

  • India: Average consumption 600 kilowatt-hours per year (kWh/year)
  • Indonesia: Average consumption 629 kWh/year
  • Central African Republic: Average consumption 29 kWh/year
  • Chad: Average consumption 8 kWh/year.

Energy access is defined by the International Energy Agency (IEA) as 250 kWh/year and 500 kWh/year, for rural and urban areas respectively.

For comparison, the average American consumes over 14,000 kWh/year.

If nuclear power, using MSRs, is not acceptable to environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, the alternative for supplying the world’s poor with electricity is coal, but these same groups also oppose coal.

Preventing billions of people from having access to electricity must be a crime against humanity.

In the United States, SMRs are not likely to be coming to a city near you, but could be an important factor for producing electricity in developing countries if it weren’t for those who oppose nuclear power.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Bryan Leyland permalink
    February 3, 2015 2:23 pm

    Dear Donn,

    Excellent article. But how much of the cost of a small reactor results from the ridiculous licensing process? It seems to take longer to license a design than develop it. And then there is the mistaken belief that low levels of radiation are dangerous which would add to the delays and massively increase the cost.

    Kind regards,

    Bryan Leyland

    Phone +64 9 940 7047 Mobile +64 21 978 996


    • February 3, 2015 3:15 pm

      Bryan: I suspect that the licensing process adds considerably to the cost. Same with the linear no threshold mistaken belief about low levels of radiation.
      Thanks for mentioning these items.

      • Daniel permalink
        February 4, 2015 4:02 pm

        You have no idea what us poor nukes have to deal with on a regular basis, I am avoiding utilities like the plague and heading for the military because of what I have seen.

        Just look at costs at other countries compared to the US.
        The first of a kind AP1000 build in China are working out to be a quarter of the cost of the US AP1000 when the cost overruns are factored in. While lower labor and materials costs partially explain that, one can also look at Korea/Japan.

        With higher materials AND labor costs reactors in the same class as the AP1000 with similar safety systems have been are being built for half the cost as the American ones. Both of these countries use the same LNT hypothesis as their basis for radiation regulation.

        Korea has recently had issues with substandard/fake parts in their reactors which has turned into a big scandal.

        The US on the other hand has an extremely exhaustive system of multiply redundant paperwork that makes this impossible. Everything down to the screws, nuts and bolts has to be “nuclear certified.”

        I one worked at a small research reactor over a hundred times smaller than a typical large commercial plant that was by specific design inherently impossible to have an accident like a meltdown. By law we have a system for changes that is significantly simpler than what the commercial people have to deal with.

        The DOE dictated that we had to change our enrichment from over 20% to just under 20% in the name of nuclear weapons nonproliferation. This was despite that with the contamination from being used as fuel made it inherently impossible to make a nuclear bomb.

        I am barred from discussing certain security measures publicly, lets just leave it at dirty bombs are not an issue here.

        Making this slight change to the fuel that had no real effect on safety took a $100 million in scientific study and several years of engineering work just to fill out the paperwork. The paperwork just for the application for review of the proposal was four stacks of paper each over 6 feet tall (I am not exagerrating one bit here). We had to have triplicate copies of any changes.

        We had entire floor of the reactor building that was supposed to be an evacuation zone for the 1950’s nuclear war scares filled with over a hundred filing cabinets, the regulations requiring physical copies and in some cases blocking the use of computers. When I left there were more administrators for paperwork than researchers and people doing work with the reactor combined. I shudder at what the commercial people have to deal with.

  2. permalink
    February 3, 2015 10:39 pm


  3. February 4, 2015 4:32 pm

    Daniel: Thanks for elaborating on the cost issue. I know we have been blitzed by the bureaucrats and that costs here are far higher than they need be.


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