The world of small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) is gaining traction, with development projects popping up around the globe. Taking nuclear power plant construction ‘out of the field’ would reduce risks and costs significantly.

A futuristic rendering of the NuScale Power plant

Nuclear energy produces massive amounts of carbon-free power and one of its many benefits is its capability to produce that power on less land than comparable clean energy sources. Research from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) found that wind farms require up to 360 times as much land area to produce the same amount of electricity as a nuclear energy facility, while solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities require up to 75 times the land area.

However, a major restricting factor to the development of nuclear energy is that the sector is dogged with cost overruns and delays. A study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that while changes in safety regulations could account for some of the excess costs, that was only one of numerous factors contributing to the cost overruns.

“Many of the excess costs were associated with delays caused by the need to make last-minute design changes based on particular conditions at the construction site or other local circumstances,” the research noted. It stands to reason, added MIT, that if more components of the plant – or even the entire plant – could be built offsite in controlled factory conditions, such extra costs could be substantially reduced.

Greater flexibility

Rather than the huge nuclear plants that we see today, which require large project timelines and even bigger costs, modular and smaller reactors could be manufactured and self-contained, meaning they could be trucked to the final site. This would also provide a more flexible power supply; numerous plants of this type could be grouped together to provide output comparable to that of larger plants, or smaller groups could be established so as to not flood the transmission systems.

Certainly, the world of small modular nuclear reactors is gaining traction. China is moving ahead with its 100 MW SMR designed by China National Nuclear Corporation, having completed its preliminary design stage. The ACP100 nuclear reactor is slated to be deployed in the Hainan province and be used to generate heat for a residential district. Canada, too, has small modular nuclear reactor ambitions, with the goal of building a demonstration plant by 2026.

In the USA, the most progress has been made by NuScale Power and its partner Fluor.

NuScale’s innovative small modular reactor has unparalleled safety, reliability and efficiency features. – Christopher Colbert, NuScale

Already, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) has awarded Fluor a cost-reimbursable development agreement to provide estimating, development, design and engineering services for its Carbon-Free Power Project, using NuScale Power’s small modular reactor design.

The US Department of Energy recently provided UAMPS with a multi-year cost share award for up to USD1.355 billion in funding to aid the development of the country’s first small modular nuclear reactor project. The funding is intended to mitigate licensing and financial risk and to accelerate commercial deployment schedules.

The first module is expected to begin generating power in 2029, with the remaining modules coming online for full plant operation by 2030, said NuScale.

Increasing output

NuScale has also been able to bump up the power capacity of its module by up to 25 percent; a 12-module facility could now generate 924 MWe. It has also added to the range of module facility types offered, which now include a four-module plant and a six-module plant with respective outputs of 308 MWe and 462 MWe.

Christopher Colbert, NuScale’s chief strategy officer and chief financial officer, said: “NuScale’s innovative small modular reactor has unparalleled safety, reliability and efficiency features. Our modular design takes safety related fabrication work out of the field, allowing the modules to be built in parallel to construction site work, lessening the risk to both cost and schedule.

“Practical, smart facets like this are embedded in every aspect of our engineering efforts and design, which further demonstrate how NuScale is on the frontier of clean energy innovation.”

Read more in HLPFI’s March/April edition of the magazine.