Current Status, Technical Feasibility and Economics of Small Nuclear Reactors

Foreword

Larger nuclear reactors typically have lower specific costs due to the economy of scale, resulting in nuclear power plants with reactors of 1 000-1 600 MWe being most commonly commercialised today.

However, there is currently a growing trend in the development and commercialisation of small and medium-sized reactors (SMRs), i. e. reactors with effective electric power less than 700 MWe. The main arguments in favour of SMRs are that they could be suitable for areas with small electrical grids and for remote locations, and that due to the smaller upfront capital investment for a single SMR unit the financial risks associated with their deployment would be significantly smaller than for a large reactor. This offers flexibility for incremental capacity increases which could potentially increase the attractiveness of nuclear power to investors.

This report is a summary of the development status and deployment potential of SMRs. It brings together the information provided in a variety of recent publications in this field, and presents the characterisation of SMRs currently available for deployment and those that are expected to become available in the next 10-15 years. Additionally, it highlights the safety features and licensing issues regarding such reactors.

Particular attention is given to the economics of SMRs, and the various factors affecting their competitiveness are analysed and discussed. Vendors’ data on the economics of different designs are compared with independent quantitative estimates of the electricity generating costs, and the deployment potential of such reactors in a number of markets and geographic locations is assessed.

This report was prepared by Vladimir Kuznetsov, Consultant, and Alexey Lokhov of the NEA Nuclear Development Division.

Detailed review and comments were provided by Ron Cameron and Marco Cometto of the NEA Nuclear Development Division, with other reviews and input from members of the NEA Nuclear Development Committee.

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