Australian news, and some related international items

Misguided funding for small nuclear reactors

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Are Mostly Bad Policy, Clean Technica  By Michael Barnard 3 May 21,

People asserting that SMRs are the primary or only answer to energy generation either don’t know what they are talking about, are actively dissembling or are intentionally delaying climate action.

Like hydrogen, small modular nuclear reactors have been seeing a resurgence of interest lately. Much of that is driven by governmental policies and investments focusing on the technology. Much of it comes from the nuclear industry. And inevitably, some comes from entrepreneurs attempting to build a technology that they hope will take off in a major way, making them and their investors a lot of money.

Most Of The Attention & Funding Is Misguided At Best, & Actively Hostile To Climate Action At Worst

First, let’s explore briefly the world of small modular nuclear reactors (SMNR) or small and medium reactors (SMR). The most common acronym is SMR, but you’ll see both.

As it says on the box, they are nuclear generation devices, specifically fission nuclear. That means they use radioactively decaying fissile materials, fuels, to heat a liquid which creates steam which drives steam turbines to generate electricity. Technically, they are like a coal generation plant, but with the heat provided by the decay of uranium instead of the burning of long-buried plant matter.

There are a handful of differences between them and traditional nuclear generation reactors. The biggest one is that they are smaller, hence the ‘small’ and ‘medium’ in the names. They range from 0.068 MW to 500 MW in capacity, with the International Atomic Energy Association using small for up to 300 MW and medium for up to 700 MW.

Despite the buzz, this is not new technology. The first nuclear generation plant was a Russian 5 MW device that went live in 1954. Hundreds of small reactors have been built for nuclear powered vessels and as neutron sources. This is well trodden ground. Most of the innovations being touted were considered initially decades ago.

In the seven decades since the first SMR was commissioned, 57 different designs and concepts have been designed, developed and, rarely, built. Most of the ones which are built are doing what nuclear reactors do, getting older without new ones being built to replace them.

The Russian models are far-north icebreaker power plants being considered for land-based deployment in remote northern towns, with the Siberian one at end of life. The Indian ones are 14 small CANDU variants in operation, most decades old now. The Chinese one is coming up to end of its 40-year life span as well.

The Argentinean model has been in construction on and off for over a decade with work stoppages, political grandstanding, and monetary problems. It may never see the light of day.

The Chinese HTR-PM, under construction for the past decade, is the only one with remotely new technology. If commissioned, it is expected to be the first Gen IV reactor in operation.

And to be clear, this isn’t a technology, it’s many technologies. Across the decades, 57 variants of 18 types have been put forward. None of the types can be considered to be dominant.

Claims About SMRs Don’t Withstand Advocates for SMRs typically make some subset of the following claims:

They are saferThey can be manufactured in scaled, centralized manufacturing facilities so they will be cheaperThey can provide clean power for remote facilities or communitiesThey can be deployed onto decommissioned coal generation brownfield sitesThey can be built faster

Safety concerns aren’t why nuclear is failing in the marketplace, economics are why nuclear is failing in the marketplace…….. .

May 4, 2021 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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