In nuclear big is not always best, small can be beautiful
Nuclear power faces questions overs its financial competitiveness, impeding its ability to help combat climate change. Small modular reactors (SMRs) rated below 500MWe are being considered because they can be funded more easily and, using modular build, they can be delivered more quickly.
SMRs are thought by many to be uneconomic. But standardisation and modularisation of design, widely used in other industries, can offset their cost disadvantages and would enable the capital costs of SMRs to be reduced to below the level of large reactors. Meanwhile their potentially faster build — using modular construction — and the large numbers of units required, would enable further reductions in cost through production learning. Together these approaches could potentially reduce energy costs to $75/MWh.
However, wholesale changes to nuclear industry practices will be required to enable deep standardisation. It will require new strategic suppliers and a change from one-off projects to sequential delivery for both nuclear components and whole power stations.
The questions are: Will SMR projects be funded and will they be delivered?
Business consultant and lecturer in nuclear engineering at the University of Cambridge.
Following a degree in engineering at Cambridge, Tony Roulstone was trained as an officer in the British Army and served in Germany and Northern Ireland, before leaving to join the UKAEA working on fast reactor developments at Dounreay.
He then spent 20 years with Rolls-Royce. Initially, this was as an engineer in nuclear submarine propulsion and later as the engineering director. In the mid-1990s, he became MD of the nuclear group of companies running and developing the group for five years. For the final period in Rolls-Royce, Tony led an ambitious business efficiency and change programme for the whole company covering aerospace and industrial power groups in the UK, US and around the world. Since 2010, he has developed and has run the Nuclear Energy Master’s programme at University of Cambridge and has conducted research in nuclear economics and safety.