Small Modular Nuclear Reactors


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I listened with interest to Dr Dorfman's comments regarding the expansion of Sizewell C, where he quoted the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission, which found that “...renewables represented the best option for consumers...”. He also described nuclear power as “...an old twentieth century industrial failure...” and that “...the same reactor that is mooted for Sizewell is three times over cost and three times over time, wherever it’s been built, including China...”.

I am of the opinion that influential bodies like the CCC, the National Infrastructure Commission and the National Grid and influential individuals like Dr Dorfman, are unaware of or willfully ignoring burgeoning developments in advanced nuclear power plants (npps) that will carve away at investment in renewable technologies as soon as 2026.

Hinkley Point C, which consists of two EPR units, is the most expensive form of npp, at an overnight cost of some $8,000/kW. But in 2026, the commencement of operation of NuScale’s 720 MWe will be at an overnight cost of $4,200/kW; down to 52.5% of Hinkley’s overnight cost. (B)

In 2030, GE-Hitachi are targeting their 'First Of A Kind' (FOAK) operational SMR (Small Modular Reactor), the BWRX-300, at 40% of the overnight cost of current nuclear power plants – maybe $3,000/kW. Some 4 or 5 years later they are openly proclaiming an overnight cost of $2,000/kW for the 'Nth Of A Kind' (NOAK). (A)

$2,000/kW translates to a UK cost of £468 million for 300 MWe npp. A single BWRX-300 would generate 142 million MWh of dividend-paying units of 24/7, low-carbon electricity. Compare this to the most cost-effective renewable technology - onshore wind: The largest installation, Whitelee Windfarm, costing £600 million, will generate 32 million MWh of dividend-paying units of intermittent, low-carbon electricity.

Investing 28% more, to earn less than one quarter of the returns, for the delivery of a compromised product that will forever require fossil-fuelled backup, looks suicidal from an investment point of view and would be politically unconscionable to an electorate burdened by high energy bills.

But the real killer blow that SMRs will deal to renewables happened just a few months ago which allows these advanced npps to answer the problem of decarbonising heat and transport, which renewables can never hope to address.

This Forbes article covers a recent NRC ruling which clears the way for the siting of SMRs close to population centres: https://www.forbes.com/…/how-far-do-you-have-to-run-after-a small-nuclear-meltdown/?

A single BWRX-300 in a Combined Heating & Power (CHP) mode would be capable of supplying all of the electricity - domestic; commercial; industrial - to a city the size of Leicester and also supplying much of the heating. Getting - twice the bang for your bucks – from a single SMR on a tiny site, a fraction of the size of a P2G complex and infrastructure, will represent an order of magnitude saving in cost and environmental footprint.

The manifest pro-renewables/anti-nuclear recommendations from the bodies I mentioned above and from influential academics and individuals could well deflect Government’s attention from giving serious consideration to advanced nuclear reactor power plants in a timely fashion.

Well within 2 decades we ought to be seeing new, super-safe reactors taking over the supply of low-carbon, base-load electricity, from those decades-old and most admirable npps that have saved so many lives and prevented the emission of so much greenhouse gas.

Note (A): YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNpant6xANE David Powell of GE-Hitachi at 32:10.

Note (B): YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNpant6xANE Tom Mundy of NuScale at 35:40.

CM, engineer, 4 Jan 2019; reproduced by permission.


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