In the race to develop cleaner alternatives to conventional power generation methods, nuclear power remains one of the most controversial due to several serious power plant disasters over the past half-century, including those in Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island.
But safety notwithstanding, the way the ongoing Russian occupation of Ukraine has put a cramp on supplies of crude oil and natural gas to much of the world has driven governments and the private sector to consider nuclear power – and the development of small modular reactor (SMR) technology may just turn the tide in the sector’s favor.
A Revolutionary Technology
SMRs are seen as a more convenient and potentially safer way to bring the benefits of cleanly-generated nuclear power to the masses. The average SMR has a power capacity ranging between 50 to 300 MW(e) per unit – significantly lower than the over 700 MW(e) generated by conventional reactors, but nevertheless capable of bringing clean energy to a wide area.
The technology’s primary advantage is its size and configuration: just a fraction of the size of a conventional reactor, and its systems and components can be fabricated and assembled at a factory, then easily transported as a complete unit for installation at a modified venue like a repurposed coal- or gas-powered plant. Their compact size also means a much smaller carbon footprint than most power-generating methods.
A Cost-Effective Solution
Another great thing about SMRs is that a number was designed to remain operational without refueling for a maximum length of 30 years, though some need to be refueled every seven years. Nevertheless, this is quite a change from conventional nuclear plants which need to be refueled either annually or biannually.
This makes SMR technology comparable to either wind or solar power solutions which only have an effective life span of up to 20 years, while their batteries can stay operational for up to eight.
That said, the technology will also help governments save money in terms of developmental and operational costs. Prefabricated / pre-built SMRs, as stated above, can be built, shipped, and installed on-site without needing to build a specific facility for them. Moreover, nuclear plants running SMR technology tend to generate less waste compared to both conventional nuclear power plants and traditional power generation methods.
As a result, governments throughout the world – particularly in the United States – have started incentivizing SMRs in order to appeal to lenders as well as utility or service providers. However, it remains to be seen if SMRs will make nuclear power more mainstream in the near future.