#NuclearCommissionSAust hearing – is the Small Modular Reactor (SMR) a lemon?
Plough your way through the transcript of the October 7th hearing of the South Australia Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission, and amidst all the technical hype, you will find some sobering points.
The speaker was Mr Thomas Marcille, of Holtec International, developer of the SMR-160, who enthused about that SMRs future, and explained its safety features etc.
Yet there were bits that would make even a greedy Australian nuke enthusiast pause:
“COMMISSIONER: Would it be fair to say that you’re expecting SMR or the 30 application of them outside the US more than inside?
MR MARCILLE: No question ……As a data point, I think that would suggest that the vast market is outside of the United States………, it’s possible for a national regulator outside the United States to first licence the SMR-160.”
He goes on to explain that the USA’s now more rigourous licensing process “part 52 or design certificate” is “far too arduous in terms of time and cost and risk.”
[translation – nobody in USA wants to buy the SMR, and it can’t get licensing there]
“our concept is to develop a preliminary design specification and a preliminary safety analysis report and to then achieve an opportunity with a commercial client to submit that preliminary safety analysis report under the review of a competent regulator for consideration of granting a construction permit. At such time the design will matriculate through the engineering specifications, the procurement specifications and the construction drawings. It’s unlikely that Holtec will continue to develop towards final safety analysis and final design unless a client steps forth.”
[translation – we’re not going ahead with licensing until after we’ve signed up an overseas buyer, such as Australia] [Holtec will] “continue the investment in the business and the technology if and as the marketplace develops”
The Commissioner asked Mr Marcille about “ comparison to larger plants the cost economies and the advantages of small modular reactors.” and about “the extent to which companies expect to have an order book of plants to manufacture and the extent to which they can enjoy economies of scale 25 because they’re manufacturing multiple versions of the same item “.
MR MARCILLE: Let me help by saying that – let me liken a large light-water reactor to a large apple and suggest that a lot of people think of small modular reactors as little apples. I would ask you to think of a small modular reactor like the SMR160 not as a little apple but a little orange. So now I’m comparing a big apple to a little orange and they’re entirely different. The apple is sweet, 40 the orange is sour. You get the picture…….
Mr Marcille continued with a lengthy and complex answer to this question, which included stressing the large costs of large reactors. I did not find it convincing .
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