Advanced Nuclear Reactor Technology: A Primer

adv reac coverThe Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) has published a primer on advanced nuclear reactor technologies. The 48-page PDF file is available for free by downloading it from the organization’s website.

This primer provides basic information on advanced reactors to help the public and stakeholders the promise of innovative nuclear technologies. Dozens are under development around the world; this primer focuses on those in the United States and Canada.

This is an excellent resource written in an accessible plain English style. Anyone who wants to know what the excitement is about with advanced nuclear reactors will find a wealth of information here. 

From the Introduction to the Primer

NIA logoThe term “advanced reactors” encompasses many different designs, features and sizes. The commercial industry has used light, or ordinary, water reactors since the technology’s inception in the 1950s, mostly following the lead of the U.S. Navy which pioneered the technology for marine propulsion.

Today’s commercial reactors were built to run around the clock to make electricity, but with countries building out a large amount of intermittent renewable energy infrastructure, a totally zero-carbon electricity grid will require nuclear reactors that can operate flexibly, complement variable generation, and provide firm, reliable energy. A carbon-free economy needs energy sources to make more than just electricity. Thus, advanced reactors are being designed with capabilities that include:

• Producing electricity in alignment with power system needs

• Splitting water molecules to make hydrogen, as an energy storage medium or fuel, or a feedstock to be combined with captured carbon dioxide, and to make synthetic liquid fuels for planes, trucks and other vehicles

• Providing process heat for manufacturing and industry, replacing fossil fuels

• Desalinating water, as climate change affects water availability

Some of the new advanced reactor designs use fuel in a molten form, or use molten salt or metal to transfer heat from the reactor core to where it can be converted into useful energy.

New fuel forms and inherent safety designs make advanced reactors extremely tolerant of high heat, ensuring that they do not overheat while operating at higher temperatures. These characteristics allow advanced non-light water reactors to produce more electricity per unit of heat than a conventional nuclear reactor can.

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Many advanced reactor designs are much smaller than existing plants, which may eliminate some supply chain bottlenecks as their components can be built in a much wider variety of factories.

Factory production of multiple reactors can lead to economies of scale and proceed in parallel with plant construction, instead of having to wait for certain plant components to be partially constructed before assembling the reactor. That will reduce construction times and cost.


Smaller reactors are more compatible with more use cases: they can be located at industrial facilities to meet industrial needs; added to small electric grids around the world; meet smaller increments of demand growth; and financed more easily.

Many of the advanced reactor designs noted in this Primer obtain more energy value from the fuel by minimizing the amount of waste produced or by recycling used nuclear fuel in future iterations of their designs.

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Restoring common sense to communications
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