Reforms Are Called for to Support Development
of Small Modular Reactors
The Nuclear Innovation Alliance recommends targeted incentives to accelerate technology development and deployment
The report provides guidance for state and federal governments to accelerate both light water and non-light water SMR design availability to meet global energy challenges and national security imperatives.
“By supporting new SMR technology deployment, the United States can help secure its position as an international leader on nuclear technology for decades to come,” said Ashley Finan, NIA policy director.
“Our report makes discrete recommendations to federal and state policymakers and officials to support the development of this extremely valuable energy technology.”
With aging U.S. coal and nuclear plants slated for retirement, and the urgency of combating climate change, SMRs are well-suited to help provide the next generation of much-needed clean, dispatchable energy, alongside renewable energy and other low-carbon energy sources.
On a global scale, the report notes that SMRs have the potential to help meet growing international energy demand, as nations work to lift billions of people out of poverty. These technologies offer an alternative to traditional, large light water reactors with power outputs that can better match the scale of developing world energy needs. SMRs have enhanced safety cases and operational flexibility, including the ability to better complement variable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Advanced Safety Characteristics of SMRs
NIA’s analysis describes the advancing safety and increasing safety margins which are priorities for every new generation of nuclear reactor designs. It has become clear that reactors that do not need off-site electricity, off-site water, or operator intervention would provide safety advantages.
Achieving these types of robust safety characteristics is generally easier for smaller reactors due to the lower total heat produced in a smaller reactor core. In this way, SMR designs could set a new standard for passive nuclear energy safety in the U.S. commercial nuclear fleet.
For example, the use of natural circulation in some light-water SMR designs allows for the elimination of traditional components, such as reactor coolant pumps. Eliminating reactor coolant pumps means that off-site electricity is not required to continue cooling the fuel rods in the event of an accident. Light-water SMRs also have a smaller amount of nuclear material on-site compared with the larger LWRs and thus a smaller source term.
Alternative fuel forms, such as the particle based fuel used in HTGRs, have higher melting temperatures than conventional light-water reactor fuels. The multiple barriers to the release of radioactive material in particle-based fuels include layers of ceramic coatings on the nuclear fuel, the carbon encasement, and the graphite core structure.
These design innovations mean that fuel melting and radiation release is ruled out in postulated accident conditions, leading to power plants with very long to unlimited coping times.
Their low pressure operation and
significant margins to boiling also mitigate loss of coolant concerns, as well as the need for coolant injection systems.
The experiments performed at EBR-II demonstrated that for those design parameters, as temperature increases and materials expand, a net negative reactivity feedback leads to inherent safety responses.
In this full-scale reactor test, it was demonstrated that without any coolant flow and with control rods out of the core, the reactor would shut itself down naturally without any fuel damage, due to this negative temperature reactivity feedback.
SMR Offer Options for Technology Selection
“By investing in a portfolio of reactor technologies and providing a continuum of support through different stages of development, the U.S. government can bolster SMR innovation while allowing the market to guide technology selection,” said Matt Bowen, author of the report.
“Our findings indicate that we are at an important juncture where targeted incentives for SMRs can make a big difference for the country’s future clean energy options.”
NIA’s SMR recommendations
- Congress and the Administration to expand support for new reactor design and licensing to include non-light water designs and extend support through final design.
- Congress to amend the nuclear energy tax credit to help first-of-a-kind SMR projects to close the economic gap with carbon-emitting natural gas plants;
- The Secretary of Energy to procure clean, secure power for federal facilities through power purchase agreements with the SMR projects under development by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); and
- State governments to expand existing or proposed Renewable Portfolio Standards into Clean Energy Standards that could include SMRs and other advanced nuclear technology.
To download a copy of the report, please visit the NIA website
About the Nuclear Innovation Alliance
The Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) leads advanced nuclear energy innovation. We assemble companies, investors, experts and stakeholders to advance nuclear energy innovation and enable innovative reactor commercialization through favorable energy policy and funding.
We research, develop and advocate policies that enable the efficient licensing and timely early-stage demonstration of advanced reactor technologies.
Ashley E. Finan, Ph.D.
Nuclear Innovation Alliance
Potomac Communications Group
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