Small is beautiful for nuclear developers.
William Atkinson is a Fortnightly contributor based in Carterville, Ill.
Small modular reactors (SMRs) are nuclear generating units that are about the size of railroad cars and provide about one-tenth to one-fourth the power of full-size reactors. As a result, they cost a fraction of what full-size reactors cost. The reactors are designed to provide between 40 MW and 300 MW of electric power, compared with the 1,100 to 1,700 MW output of larger reactors. In addition, most are expected to cost under $1 billion, compared with the $5 billion to $10 billion price tags of the larger units.
Over the past decade, a number of companies have begun work on SMRs, including Westinghouse, Toshiba, GE Hitachi Nuclear, Babcock & Wilcox, NuScale Power, PBMR, Hyperion Power, Areva and General Atomics.
Westinghouse was one of the earliest to develop the technology. “We have been working on SMRs since 1999,” reports Michael Anness, manager, advanced reactors, for Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, Pa. Initially, these were in the range of about 200 MW. However, the designs have evolved over the years, with multiple power levels. “The more we learn about them, the more we learn how to streamline the design,” he explains. “We are now working on the optimum configuration for SMRs, and we are currently in the conceptual design phase.” Anness says one such design, the International Reactor Innovative and Secure (IRIS), is about 10 years from its first actual deployment.