Small Modular Nuclear Reactors , A Major Component in U.S. Energy Strategy

Small modular reactors (SMRs) were a main topic of a session on advanced reactor technology during the 19th Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference, ref. 1. The conference was held August 24-28 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The meeting provided an opportunity for meeting attendees to hear about the accomplishments of the nuclear industries in several of the leading Pacific basin nuclear countries.

The session on advance reactor technology was chaired by John Kelly, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for nuclear reactor technologies. Mr. Kelly referred to President Obama’s commitment to developing the use of clean energy sources and the challenge he set for the DOE: for the U.S. to generate 80% of its electricity from clean sources by 2035. As a result the U.S. is looking at SMRs as a potential game changer. They have many potential benefits. The DOE expects that SMRs can generate a whole new line of business. They can provide improved safety beyond the Generation III+ designs, largely because of the relatively greater volume of water available to remove decay heat. In addition, not only is the capital cost of small reactors lower, but the project risk is less, which in turn will reduce the interest rate at which a utility will have to borrow.

The DOE sees an opportunity for the U.S. to take the technical leadership in the area of SMRs. The U.S. is committed to promoting this technology internationally, as it can provide a real breakthrough in terms of clean energy production. It is noteworthy that the conference was held in Canada. The Canadian government is very supportive of the nuclear industry. Over 50% of the electricity produced in Ontario Province, the most populous, is nuclear generated. Canada’s electricity supply is among the cleanest in the world.

Ref. 1. Kovan, Dick, “Fulfilling the promise of nuclear energy throughout the world”, Nuclear News, Publisher: American Nuclear Society, November 2014.