Source: Power Magazine | | March 31, 2020
In Part 1 of this series, published in the March 2020 issue, POWER explored how existing reactors may leverage advances in nuclear fuel to boost power generation safety and economics. This installment surveys nuclear fuel developments that may support the emerging fleet of advanced nuclear reactors, including small modular reactors and microreactors.
The brightest prospects in the vast realm of possibilities that relate to the future of nuclear power are advanced reactor technologies. The reason is, experts will tell you, because many are inherently safer. But because they can also be relatively small and flexible, they could fit the bill for less-developed grids, complement renewables, and even pry open new non-electric applications. Boosted by public and private efforts, a wide range of innovative designs are under development, from large plants—of up to a gigawatt—to tiny ones, including about 50 small modular reactor (SMR) designs, hovering between 60 MW and 300 MW, and microreactors, which are generally 10 MW or less.
Industry interest—for near-term deployment, at least—appears focused on SMRs. Their biggest draw for the nuclear sector, which has of late struggled to attract private capital for behemoth projects, is that they can be modular and shipped to site, potentially slashing both construction time and costs. Yet, despite more than a decade of development, only a handful of non-military SMRs are operational today (in Pakistan, India, and Russia), and most are based on previously existing designs, with the exception of Rosatom’s RITM-200, an advanced pressurized-water reactor, which derives from Russia’s ship reactors.
According to the World Nuclear Association, at least three other SMRs are under construction (in Argentina and China), and the development of a dozen others are “well advanced.” While some industry think-tanks suggest the first of these designs could be commercially operational within the next decade, experts also caution that many uncertainties about their widespread deployment remain.