Australian news, and some related international items

New “Generation IV” reactors, large or small, not likely to save the failing nuclear industry

As things stand, no country, company or utility has any intention of betting billions on building an SMR supply chain. The prevailing scepticism is evident

Lobbyists debate responses to the nuclear power crisis, Online opinion By Jim Green – , 27 March 2017  Lobbyists debate solutions to the crisis  “……… The four Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors conclude that “a radical break from the present light-water regime … will be necessary to revive the nuclear industry”. Exactly what that means, the authors said, would be the subject of a follow-up article.

So readers were left hanging – will nuclear power be saved by failed fast-reactor technology, or failed high-temperature gas-cooled reactors including failed pebble-bed reactors, or by thorium pipe-dreams or fusion pipe-dreams or molten salt reactor pipe-dreams or small modular reactorpipe-dreams? Perhaps we’ve been too quick to write-off cold fusion?

The answers came in a follow-up article on February 28. The four Third Way / Breakthrough Institute authors argue that nuclear power must become substantially cheaper and this will not be possible “so long as nuclear reactors must be constructed on site one gigawatt at a time. … At 10 MW or 100 MW, by contrast, there is ample opportunity for learning by doing and economies of multiples for several reactor classes and designs, even in the absence of rapid demand growth or geopolitical imperatives.”

Other than their promotion of small reactors and their rejection of large ones, the four authors are non-specific about their preferred reactor types. Any number of small-reactor concepts have been proposed.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) have been the subject of much discussion and even more hype. There’s quite a bit of R&D ‒ in the US, the UK, South Korea, China and elsewhere. But only a few SMRs are under construction: one in Argentina, a twin-reactor floating nuclear power plant in Russia, and three SMRs in China (including two high-temperature gas-cooled reactors). The broad picture for SMRs is much the same as that for fast neutron reactors: lots of hot air, some R&D, but few concrete plans and even fewer concrete pours.

There isn’t the slightest chance that SMRs will fulfil the ambition of making nuclear power “substantially cheaper” unless and until a manufacturing supply chain is mass producing SMRs for a mass market ‒ and even then, it’s doubtful whether the power would be cheaper and highly unlikely that it would be substantially cheaper. After all, economies-of-scale have driven the long-term drift towards larger reactors.

As things stand, no country, company or utility has any intention of betting billions on building an SMR supply chain. The prevailing scepticism is evident in a February 2017 Lloyd’s Register report based on “insights and opinions of leaders across the sector” and the views of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers. Respondents predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”.

In the absence of a mass supply chain, SMRs will be expensive curiosities. The construction cost of Argentina’s 25 MWe CAREM reactor is estimated at US$446 million, which equates to a whopping US$17.8 billion / GW. Estimated construction costs for the Russian floating plant have increased more than four-fold and now equate to over US$10 billion / GW.

Small or large reactors, consolidation or innovation, conventional reactors or Generation IV pipe-dreams … it’s not clear that the nuclear industry will be able to recover however it responds to its current crisis.


March 27, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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