Small Modular Reactors: The Next Big Thing in Nuclear

The next big thing in nuclear is actually quite small, comparatively.

Since the beginning of nuclear power plants in the 1950s, the size of reactors has steadily grown from 60 MWe to more than 1600 MWe. However, over the last 15-20 years, a new design for a smaller-scale option for nuclear energy has been in the works. Small modular reactors (SMRs) are defined as reactors using module factory fabrication, pursuing economies of series production and short construction times. Designed to introduce more flexibility in the nuclear energy industry, SMRs are opening up possibilities in new regions around the world.

Smaller footprint

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), SMRs are defined as under 300 MWe, less than 25% of the size of a traditional reactor. A smaller footprint means nuclear energy can be introduced in new regions where there wasn’t previously a need for a larger-scale output power plant. With a smaller footprint, also comes quicker construction times. Some SMR designs are modular concepts where a majority of the construction can take place offsite in a factory environment. A large segment of the power plant would then simply be shipped to the final site to be put together to reduce cost and save time.

Smaller investment

The World Nuclear Association states that size, construction efficiency, and passive safety systems can lead to easier financing, and costs could be reduced even further depending on the production of the design. This opens up new possibilities for countries that could not previously budget for the immense expense of traditional nuclear power plants.

New regions

Since SMRs have a smaller footprint and require a smaller investment, interest in nuclear energy is being shown in new parts of the world. The benefits of SMRs are appealing to countries with a range of nuclear experience. Regions with a long history of nuclear are interested in also adding SMRs for an energy mix. On the other end of the spectrum, countries with no history of nuclear energy are able to implement SMRs for nuclear energy for the first time. With a smaller grid requirement, there is also less reliance on active safety systems, additional pumps, and AC power for SMR builds.

While many SMR developments are still in the introductory phase and undergoing lengthy regulatory reviews, SMR developers and designers are sharing their plans for the future. Our materials experts recently attended the SMR & Advanced Reactor Virtual Summit. At the virtual summit, we saw the latest SMR developments, learned where the market is, where it’s going, and much more.

Nuclear partner

As a partner to the nuclear industry for 60 years, we are very involved in the development process to learn how we can play a role in the SMR supply chain in the coming years. We have manufactured advanced stainless steels, special alloys, and nuclear tubes for more than 100 nuclear power plants worldwide. Many of the materials in SMRs will be the same alloys used in traditional reactors, just on a smaller scale. With our materials expertise and industry-leading R&D, Sandvik is at the forefront of the development of this new design of nuclear power plants.

Learn more about our history of expertise in nuclear power generation.

By Brian Irving, Senior Sales Representative, Sandvik