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Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs)

An academic reactor or reactor plant almost always has the following basic characteristics:
On the other hand, a practical reactor plant can be distinguished by the following characteristics: 
(1) It is simple. (2) It is small. (3) It is cheap (4) It is light. (5) It can be built very quickly. (6) It is very flexible in purpose (’omnibus reactor’). (7) Very little development is required. It will use mostly off-the-shelf components. (8) The reactor is in the study phase. It is not being built now. (1) It is being built now. (2) It is behind schedule. (3) It is requiring an immense amount of development on apparently trivial items. Corrosion, in particular, is a problem. (4) It is very expensive. (5) It takes a long time to build because of the engineering development problems. (6) It is large. (7) It is heavy. (8) It is complicated.

Admiral Hyman Rickover, June 1953

NuScale - Idaho National Lab - UAMPS Small Modular Nuclear Reactor proposal



 


Eastern Idaho nuclear reactor project downsized
From 12 units (600 MW) to 6 units (462 MW). As of now, 28 participants have committed to a total of 103 MW. The Post-Register (Idaho Falls), July 16, 2021

UAMPS/NuScale Post-Offramp Summary Fact Sheet The project goal is to sell commitments for 720 MW before construction starts. Presently, the number is about 100 MW, and dropping. January 2021

New nuclear project makes no sense New nuclear isn't competing with fossil fuels; instead, it competes with low-carbon renewables, chiefly solar and wind. And it simply can’t compete. By Robert Davies, Utah State University physics professor, in the Deseret News, September 18, 2020

PacifiCorp study shows cost of renewables much lower than cost of SMNRs The utility projects the NuScale project to cost $6,229/kW, plus operation and maintenance costs of nearly $200/kW-year, which amounts to another $6,000/kW over 30 years. By contrast, the resource cost for solar plus batteries at Idaho Falls: about $1,600/kW plus only $30/kW-year for O&M. (See pages 12 and 8, respectively, of the PDF.) In other words, UAMPS utilities can decide to pay four times as much for nuclear as the resource literally falling on the ground around them, plus much higher operational costs They can wait a decade for the NuScale project to be completed, with likely cost increases (and delays) along the way; or they can have proven solar power within a year. PacifiCorp Integrated Resource Plan, September 17, 2020

Eyes Wide Shut Problems with the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) Proposal to Construct NuScale Small Modular Reactors. Among those problems is that Fluor, the majority stockholder in NuScale, is facing legal and financial difficulties and is reducing its investment in NuScale. A Credit Suisse financial analyst has recommended dumping the SMNR project altogether.
Some private utilities that have considered NuScale have come up estimates of $100/MWh or more (and rising) for the cost of its electricity, compared to solar and wind at well under $50 (and falling). Meanwhile, in 2019 NuScale and UAMPS were still using a figure of $55, though increasing projections of construction costs are cause for skepticism. By M.V. Ramana, University of British Columbia, September 2020

Startup schedule of Idaho SMNR delayed to 2029 from 2027 Utah Taxpayer Association's vice president said Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) members currently committed to the project should withdraw from it because of the risks. He said the project relies on "unproven technology that continues to be less and less competitive than other clean energy alternatives. Former NRC commissioner Peter Bradford said, "The development of untried new designs is no place for small utilities with no nuclear construction experience to risk their customers' money." August 13, 2020

Utah group voices SMNR concerns The Utah Taxpayers Association claims ratepayers in 34 municipalities could be on the hook for billions of dollars if they don't pull out of UAMPS nuclear plans by September 14, 2020. The group claims NuScale has repeatedly delayed and increased costs of its small reactor projects. Further, the UTA says that no participating municipality has conducted its own financial evaluation of the project and is relying on NuScale's own evaluation. KID Radio (Idaho Falls), August 12, 2020

Questions to be asked about nuclear proposal Small Utah municipalities are cautioned about the risks of investing in the Small Modular Nuclear Reactor proposed for Idaho. By Kurt Hamaan, in the Salt Lake Tribune, July 27, 2020

Utah cities should beware of nuclear plant costs Over the past several years, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) has been working on a project to build a small modular nuclear reactor project to provide some of its power needs. Later this summer, the cities involved will be voting to increase their financial commitment to cover the entire cost of the federal licensing process. It is vital that they are accurate and transparent about the costs to their ratepayers over the next half century. Three outside sources estimate that the costs will be much higher than they would be from other means of energy production. By Ray Ward, Utah State Representative (Republican), in the Salt Lake Tribune, July 7, 2020

A cautionary tale for UAMPS The municipal utility of Jacksonville, Florida, found itself locked into a power-purchase contract from the Vogtle nuclear power plants presently under construction. Though the construction cost of the plants has at least doubled, and Westinghouse, the original contractor, went bankrupt as a result, a federal court ruled that Jacksonville is still obligated to buy the contracted electricity. Meanwhile, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) is preparing to contract for some of the output of a speculative Small Modular Nuclear Reactor to be built in Idaho. See the next article below (items 1 through 3) for a guide to the pricing. And guess why UAMPS should be especially hesitant: the Idaho project will be managed by WPPSS/Energy Northwest, which 40 years ago nearly bankrupted the State of Washington. Let's hope UAMPS is paying attention to Jacksonville and is wise enough not to get locked into the same catastrophic result. Otherwise, check this space in five years, and we'll say we told you so. World Nuclear News, June 19, 2020


2020 Offramp Developments

Salmon River Electric Co-op withdraws from risky nuclear project The Idaho utility walked away from this project because it does not need additional power; and it is not competitively priced compared to BPA and would necessitate retail price increases. January 2021

Los Alamos County, NM reduces its subscription by 43%, from 11.2 to 6.37 megawatts. November 9, 2020

Heber withdraws from risky nuclear project It was one of the largest remaining subscribers. KPCW radio news, November 2, 2020

Bountiful and Beaver withdraw from risky nuclear power project They are the 5th and 6th cities to withdraw. The Deseret News, October 28, 2020

Idaho Falls reduces its share by half, from 10 to 5 MW. The Idaho Falls Post Register, October 23, 2020

Murray City withdraws from risky nuclear power project See the city council's deliberation and unanimous decision, from 28:30 to 49:00 and 1:28:30 to 2:27:00 in this video. October 20, 2020

Kaysville withdraws from risky nuclear power project See the city council's deliberation and unanimous decision, at 12:54 to 20:31 in this video. September 17, 2020

Lehi withdraws from risky nuclear power project The Lehi City Council voted unanimously to withdraw from the UAMPS NuScale SMNR project, citing concerns over rising costs. The Daily Herald (Provo), August 26, 2020

Logan withdraws from risky nuclear power project Logan, Utah, which has already invested $400,000 into the UAMPS NuScale project, would have needed to put in another $654,000 for the initial licensing phase. The city council, which voted 4-1 to withdraw, was cautioned that staying with the project could lead to an obligation of over $21 million by 2025. Cache Valley Daily, August 19, 2020

 

Why Small Modular Reactors Won't Help Counter the Climate Crisis Two main reasons: Time and cost. Furthermore, if an error in a mass-manufactured reactor were to result in safety problems, the whole lot might have to be recalled. But how does one recall a radioactive reactor? And what will happen to an electricity system that relies on identical reactors that need to be recalled? These questions haven’t been addressed by the nuclear industry or energy policy makers – indeed, they have not even been posed. Yet recalls are a predictable and consistent feature of mass manufacturing, from smartphones to jet aircraft. By Arjun Makhijani and M.V. Ramana, Environmental Working Group, March 25, 2021

Debunking the myths around Small Modular Nuclear Reactors One and a half hour video presentation by Beyond Nuclear, the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick, and the Canadian Environmental Law Association. October 21, 2020
The speakers' Power Point presentations are available here.

Two's a crowd: Nuclear and renewables don't mix - differences in carbon emissions reduction between countries pursuing renewable electricity versus nuclear power. If countries want to lower emissions as substantially, rapidly and cost-effectively as possible, they should prioritize support for renewables, rather than nuclear power, the findings of a major new energy study conclude. ScienceDaily, October 5, 2020

Nuclear energy is more expensive than renewable energy Last November, the Wall Street advisory firm Lazard reported that the average construction costs of solar photovoltaics and onshore wind turbines in the United States—one of the largest renewable energy markets in the world—are $1,000 and $1,300 per kilowatt of generation capacity respectively, down from $1,750 per kilowatt for either technology in 2013. During this period, the cost of building a new nuclear reactor rose from $6,792 to $9,550 per kilowatt. By M.V. Ramana, University of British Columbia, September 22, 2020

Smaller, cheaper reactor aims to revive nuclear industry, but design problems raise safety concerns Reviewers have unearthed design problems, including one that critics say undermines NuScale's claim that its SMNR would shut itself down in an emergency without operator intervention. Science Magazine, August 18, 2020

The SMNR ‘hype cycle’ hits a hurdle in Australia The three stages of the cycle:
   1. Vendors produce low-cost estimates.
   2. Advocates offer theoretical explanations as to why the new nuclear technology will be cost competitive.
   3. Government authorities bless the estimates by funding studies from friendly academics.
Then, of course, costs go up and construction takes much longer than projected. Now, the self-referential SMNR hype cycle has been disrupted in Australia by two government agencies. By Jim Green, Nuclear Monitor #886, June 8, 2020

A Critical Analysis of the Nuclear Waste Consequences for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (nuclear reactors with electric capacities less than 300 MW) have received support on the pretense that their development will reduce the mass and radiotoxicity of commercially generated nuclear waste. By analyzing the published design specifications for water-, sodium-, and molten salt-cooled SMNRs, I here characterize their notional, high-level waste streams in terms of decay heat, radiochemistry, and fissile isotope concentration, each of which have implications for geologic repository design and long-term safety. Volumes of low- and intermediate-level decommissioning waste, in the form of reactor components, coolants, and moderators, have also been estimated.
*  The results show that SMNRs will not reduce the size of a geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel, nor the associated future dose rates.
Rather, SMNRs are poised to discharge spent fuel with relatively high concentrations of fissile material, which may pose re-criticality risks in a geologic repository.
Furthermore, SMNRs entail increased volumes of decommissioning waste, as compared to a standard 1100 MW, water-cooled reactor
Hour-long video presentation By Dr. Lindsay Krall, Stanford University, June 4, 2020

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, a case of wishful thinking at best SMNR projects are looking more like a way to funnel money to the sagging nuclear industry than to generate power. Unfortunately, they take money away from legitimate the clean energy projects needed to combat climate change. By Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, December 18, 2019

Seven reasons why Small Modular Nuclear Reactors are a bad idea for Australia Cost, safety, security, weapons proliferation, wastes, location, delay. By Noel Wauchope, Independent Australia, August 17, 2019

Prospects for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors in the UK & Worldwide There are huge obstacles in the path of development of SMNRs, including technical issues, building up an effective supply chain, and financing, which will only be possible with public subsidies. These issues are examined in detail in this report, which concludes that SMNRs will not be built in any significant scale. By Steve Thomas, Paul Dorfman, Sean Morris, and M.V. Ramana, Nuclear Consulting Group (UK), July 2019

Analyzing the Cost of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors and Alternative Power Portfolios Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) members are considering the purchase of a portion of a 600 MW Small Modular Nuclear Reactor (SMNR) power generation facility under development by NuScale Power at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho.
The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL) commissioned Energy Strategies to conduct an independent, high-level assessment of the cost competitiveness of delivered power from the SMNR plant relative to the costs of power from comparable alternative low- or non-carbon emitting resource portfolios that include wind, solar, and energy storage. The alternative portfolios were constructed in a manner such that they would provide the same energy and capacity value as the SMNR resource being considered by UAMPS members.
The study shows that emissions-free alternative energy portfolios would be about 40% less costly than SMNR generation.
Key Findings
(brief summary), May 2019

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors and why we don’t need them A fact sheet synthesizing many of the long reports on the downsides of the SMNR. By Beyond Nuclear, April 2019

An obituary for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors
* The enthusiasm for SMNRs has little to do with climate-friendly environmentalism. About half of the SMNRs under construction (in Russia and China) are designed to facilitate access to fossil fuel resources in the Arctic, the South China Sea, and elsewhere. In Canada, one application under consideration is to provide power and heat for the extraction of hydrocarbons from oil sands.
* Another feature of the SMNR universe is its deep connection with militarism, as this article describes.
* The power produced by SMNRs will almost certainly be more expensive than that produced by large reactors.
* No company, utility, consortium or national government is seriously considering building the massive supply chain that is at the very essence of the concept of SMNRs - mass, modular factory construction. Yet without that supply chain, SMNRs will be expensive curiosities.
By Jim Green, The Ecologist , March 11, 2019

Scientists assessed the options for growing nuclear power They are grim. Under every plausible scenario, power from SMNRs is (and remains, even with subsequent generations of the tech) substantially more expensive than power from competitors. By David Roberts, Vox, July 11, 2018

Exelon: No new nuclear power units will be built in US This includes Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, seen as too expensive, due to size and security requirements. Exelon is the largest electric utility holding company and the largest nuclear generator in the US. Platts, April 12, 2018

Comments to Los Alamos County Council (NM) on UAMPS (Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems) Small Modular Nuclear Reactor Project UAMPS and the County Council refer to the proposed UAMPS SMNR Project as Carbon Free Power Project, yet there is no information in support of that very misleading description. Power, most likely derived from fossil fuel, is used for uranium mining and milling, uranium conversion and enrichment, fuel fabrication, fabrication and construction of the SMNR, operation of the SMNR, used fuel storage, irradiated fuel disposition, transport (road, rail, and ocean shipping), and myriad other aspects of the nuclear fuel chain necessary to license, fabricate, construct, and operate a reactor and the irradiated fuel storage site it will become. “Carbon Free Power Project” is an egregious public relations misnomer leading to false assumptions and poor decisions. By Sarah Fields, Program Director, Uranium Watch, February 14, 2018

Power from mini nuclear plants "would cost more than from large ones" A UK study found that electricity from Small Modular Nuclear Reactors would cost nearly one-third more than from plants such as Hinkley Point C, which is already the most expensive ever ordered. Meanwhile, as the UK government continues to spend huge amounts subsidizing expensive nuclear power, without adequate support for solar and wind energy, it has been unable to find a community interested in hosting a long-term underground nuclear waste dump. The Guardian (UK), December 7, 2017

Small nuclear reactors  are a 1950s mirage come back to haunt us The UK government proposes a 250 million pound subsidy to develop SMNRs, but by 2050 they will be 50-100 times more expensive than solar. By Oliver Tickell, The Ecologist (UK), October 24, 2017

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors and the Challenges of Nuclear Power Any attempt to deal with the problems of safety, proliferation resistance, decreased generation of waste, and cost reduction has to be reflected in some fashion in the design of specific nuclear reactors. But it turns out that each of these priorities can drive the requirements of the reactor design in different, sometimes opposing, directions.
SMNRs miss out on what are called economies of scale: the advantages that come with costs scaling more slowly than output power. For example, a 1000 MW reactor does not require four times as much concrete as a 250 MW reactor. Designers hope that this negative effect possibly could be offset somewhat through economies of mass manufacture. But even with optimistic assumptions about learning rates, hundreds, if not thousands, of reactor units would have to be built in order for mass manufacture effects to counteract the loss of economies of scale.
By M.V. Ramana and Zia Mian, Princeton University, January 2017

US Government Accountability Office pours cold water on advanced reactor concepts SMNRs require additional technical and engineering work to demonstrate reactor safety and economics. These challenges may result in higher cost reactors than anticipated, making them less competitive with large light-water reactors. Nuclear Monitor, September 9, 2015

The Forgotten History of Small Nuclear Reactors Small nuclear reactors have historically suffered from poor economics as well as technical problems. Without exception, they have cost too much for the little electricity they have produced. By M. V. Ramana, Princeton University, April 2015 (PDF)

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors: a chicken-and-egg situation A review of their inability to gain traction. Nuclear Monitor, March 19, 2015

Nuclear Power: A risky wager for the Pacific Northwest Running an aging nuclear plant and building new, modular ones is a gamble for Washington State. By Bruce Amundson and Chuck Johnson, Crosscut, September 11, 2014

What went wrong with SMNRs? Something happened on the way to the modular reactor promised land. Over the past year, the SMNR industry has been bumping up against an uncomfortable and not-entirely-unpredictable problem: It appears that no one actually wants to buy one. By Thomas Overton, POWER Magazine, September 1, 2014

One size doesn’t fit all: Social priorities and technical conflicts for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs) have been proposed as a possible way to address the social problems confronting nuclear power, including poor economics, the possibility of catastrophic accidents, radioactive waste production, and linkage to nuclear weapon proliferation. Several SMNR designs, with diverse technical characteristics, are being developed around the world and are promoted as addressing one or more of these problems. This paper examines the basic features of different kinds of SMNRs and shows why the technical characteristics of SMNRs do not allow them to solve simultaneously all four of the problems identified with nuclear power today. It shows that the leading SMNR designs under development involve choices and trade-offs between desired features. Focusing on a single challenge, for example cost reduction, might make other challenges more acute. The paper then briefly discusses other cultural and political factors that contribute to the widespread enthusiasm for these reactors, despite technical and historical reasons to doubt that the promises offered by SMNR technology advocates will be actually realized. By M.V. Ramana and Zia Mian, Energy Research and Social Science, May 24, 2014

Your choice: small reactors or carbon reductions. You can't have both. A newly-released study asserts that large-scale development of “Small Modular Nuclear Reactors” (SMNRs) likely would cost $90 Billion – an amount that likely would be diverted from development of much more cost- and climate-effective renewable energy. May 15, 2014
The full report:
The economic failure of nuclear power and the development of a low-carbon electricity future: Why Small Modular Nuclear Reactors are part of the problem, not the solution By Mark Cooper, Ph.D., Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, May 2014

Squandering Money and Resources Sierra Club fact sheet on Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, 2014

Why Nuclear Power Fails Jeremy Rifkin, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends, speaks at the Wermuth Asset Management 5th Annual Investors Event regarding nuclear power and its fate in the future of renewable energy, offering several reasons to avoid nuclear investments, including:
* Nuclear power can't be scaled up enough to have an impact on climate change.
* No solution has been found for the disposal of nuclear waste.
* Even with existing plants, there will be a uranium deficit in the not-distant future.
* Water to cool the power plants is in short supply - over 40% of all fresh water used in France is used to cool nuclear plants.
* The centralized power-plant paradigm is outdated. The future is bringing distributed generation.
Video (4 minutes), published October 8, 2013

Light Water Designs of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors: Facts and Analysis This paper discusses why SMNRs are a poor bet to solve the financial and safety problems of present-day commercial nuclear power reactors. By Arjun Makhijani, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, September 2013

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors: Safety, Security, and Cost Concerns This article examines the various concerns and concludes that small reactors are unlikely to solve the economic and safety problems faced by nuclear power. Union of Concerned Scientists, September 2013

Small Isn't Always Beautiful Safety, Security, and Cost Concerns about Small Modular Nuclear Reactors. By Edwin Lyman, Senior Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2013 (PDF)

Does DOE’s Funding Announcement Mark the End of its Irrational Exuberance for Small Nuclear Reactors? By Edwin Lyman, Union of Concerned Scientists, November 21, 2012

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors: No Solution for the Cost, Safety, and Waste Problems of Nuclear Power By Arjun Makhijani and Michele Boyd, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, September 2010 (PDF)

“New” Nuclear Reactors: Same Old Story Why Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (and other newly-promoted concepts) will not work. By Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute, June 2009
 


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