Small reactors are promoted as a way to save the nuclear industry. Small reactors can be built by the dozen in a factory, proponents argue, and then transported to sites and plugged in. This means economies of volume rather than of scale. SMRs should also produce revenues more quickly than big reactors. Around eight SMRs in the same place would be needed to produce the equivalent power of, for example, Hinkley. But whereas the first SMR on site could be lighting up the country within three to five years of being ordered, thus beginning to pay for itself and the SMRs to come, conventional big reactors can take ten years or more to plug in and start making money. the American government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars encouraging and commissioning prototype designs. NuScale’s design, backed by $217m from the American Department of Energy, could begin its licensing process this year. NuScale also has a prospective customer for an SMR, a municipal utility in Idaho. China, South Korea and other countries have a lead on Britain too. Mr Tynan argues that if the British government decided quickly to bear more of the risks in developing SMRs, the country could still exploit its nuclear know-how to compete in a global market that may be worth up to £400 billion. Not everyone believes that SMRs are the nuclear industry’s silver bullet, however. Some of the challenges that face big reactors—in particular, safety—confront smaller ones too. There is a reason why, historically, reactors have grown bigger and bigger: similar solutions to similar problems can be exploited more efficiently. SMRs have the edge when they can be placed in locations where big reactors cannot. But Britons are not famous for welcoming unwanted developments into their green and pleasant neighbourhoods.
Economist 23rd April 2016 read more »