Nuclear-21 addressing the SMR Trilemma in European Nuclear Society’s Blog

Luc Van Den Durpel addresses Nuclear-21’s view on the SMR futures in European Nuclear Society’s Blog as “SMR’s Trilemma towards the future“.

In short,  Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), but also micro- and mini-versions in terms of delivered power, and more advanced designs (Advanced Modular Reactors) are complementing the large nuclear reactors in sustainable energy systems. Three key challenges are making a trilemma for such SMRs which need resolve before the end of this decennium ensuring truly contributing to such systems, i.e.:

  1. Focus on delivering by ensuring their bankability:
    • Various technology-to-business approaches are being presented by SMR-vendors seeking to position in different energy markets. Most seek bankable deployment via economies of mass-production with others more focusing on niche captive market segments.
    • But the bankability remains to be demonstrated and doing so by end of this decennium is essential where regulation harmonisation, finalised designs of reactors, and mature industrial best-practice based project management and a performing supply chain are key elements towards de-risking the path towards such bankanbility;
  2. Today’s nuclear is already an extremely safe and reliable source of energy; future nuclear can become even better .
    • Among the stakeholders, public opinion plays and will play an essential role in the development and deployment of nuclear energy.A robust demonstration of the fact that the potential concerns (safety, security, safeguards, waste management) are correctly managed is essential to overcome any reluctance.
    • In strict connection with the previous challenge, we need to ensure that all our stakeholders remain connected in our path towards such future sustainable energy systems with a nuclear backbone. There are many objectives we aim for (economics, non-proliferation, safety, security and waste management), but the achievement of all will be largely facilitated via an intra-nuclear system thinking where we each of the nuclear reactor technologies are optimised for their market function, and not necessary seeking to be the “miracle solution”.
    • Be realistic in the timelines towards delivery while seeking to present our stakeholders that we can fulfil all objectives and that intra-nuclear synergies between different reactor technologies and harmonization of the regulatory frameworks across the globe will allow accelerating the deployment of commonly agreed technologies.
  3. Don’t forget the fuel cycle
    • Many of the intra-nuclear synergies facilitating the achievement of all sustainability objectives for nuclear energy are realised via the nuclear fuel cycle. Many of the SMRs are HALEU-based which is already a challenge but, when realised, also offer new fuel cycle options and even the fuel to other SMR/AMRs but will also demand the appropriate investments.
    • The fuel cycle for a world-wide deployment of SMRs will also bring its challenges relating to security and safeguarding and need to be addressed from the early phase of SMR-development and deployment on.
    • Lastly, only through such intra-nuclear systems view, we may further minimise the waste arising from all reactor technologies and minimise the need for geological disposal.

Anyhow, we have the knowledge and skills to face this trilemma and to address it effectively and timely. Let’s do so.