Are Smaller Nuclear Reactors a Boon or a Bane?

Small Nuke Reactor

Energy security is an issue that looms heavily on people’s minds and it has become more prominent since the Russian invasion of Ukraine exacerbated the ongoing energy crisis as economic sanctions have decreased the supply of Russian oil and gas distributed to other nations.

In which case, practically everyone is looking for viable alternatives to Russian raw materials for power generation. Several experts say that nuclear power could be the most likely solution – but not everyone is open to the notion given the risks to health and environmental safety.

Those pushing for the use of nuclear energy say that a number of issues may be prevented if, instead of relying on older super-plants, countries open to the idea could build more compact nuclear power stations whose construction won’t drain local resources or run to exorbitant costs.

France, in particular, is already reliant on nuclear power for generating electricity throughout much of the country. Germany, on the other hand, was planning to shut down two power plants by the end of the year. However, the current lack of natural gas from Russia prompted the government to remain open to the idea of reactivating these plants if necessary.

Are Small Modular Reactors the Next Big Thing?

One company that is actively advocating for the use of nuclear power is British company Rolls-Royce. The company’s nuclear energy arm, Rolls-Royce SMR, believes that small modular reactors (SMRs) could enable countries to achieve energy security as these are much easier to build and maintain compared to old-fashioned mega-reactors built and installed decades ago.

Unlike traditional reactors that need to be built from the ground up, SMR components can be manufactured in factories. The reactors themselves can be assembled onsite, which saves much time and money in terms of construction and assembly. Indeed, the process of assembling an SMR has been likened to building with LEGO bricks. Likewise, building on a reduced scale mitigates risks, thus making such endeavors more appealing to investors.

Not Without Risk

But while SMRs are convenient to build, operate, and maintain, they pose approximately the same risks as older nuclear reactors.

Indeed, the potential for nuclear disaster has been an area for concern in recent weeks due to shelling activity around the largest nuclear power plant on the continent. Constant explosions near the Zaporizhzhia plant in Ukraine have raised fears that a direct hit could lead to widespread devastation in the area.

Likewise, environmentalists are demanding answers as to how SMR users intend to dispose of highly radioactive waste, along with measures that could prevent the possibility of rogue nations or insurgent groups using nuclear power to their advantage.