Small Modular Reactors: Overview


As Australia’s nuclear experts, ANSTO closely follows the development of nuclear technologies around the world, including the emergence of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The information provided below highlights the latest information on SMR technology from reputable and established sources, including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

As global interest in SMRs grows in part, because of their potential advantages, it is fair to say they are still in their infancy and a relatively untested concept.

The OECD’s NEA recognises three SMRs as operational, with over 50 SMR technologies currently still under development as identified in their latest SMR Dashboard report. Any estimate about cost or time to construct, whether optimistic or pessimistic, should be considered with a high degree of uncertainty.

The IAEA plays an indispensable role with its safeguards to ensure international peace and security, while also fostering sustainable nuclear energy development. As with all nuclear facilities and locations outside facilities that are subject to nuclear verification by the IAEA, the Agency will be required to verify that the nuclear material in SMRs remains in peaceful use.

While advances in SMR technology continue to progress around the world, the IAEA has identified some challenges in the deployment of SMRs through its various technical papers. These challenges include economic appraisals, financing, legal frameworks, a resilient supply chain, a robust regulatory framework based on the IAEA safety standards, human resource development, public acceptance, fuel supply, and radioactive waste management.

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)

The IAEA defines SMRs as advanced nuclear reactors that have a power capacity of up to 300 MW(e) per unit, which is about one-third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors.

Many of the features of SMRs are inherently linked to the nature of their design – small and modular. Given their smaller footprint, SMRs can be sited on locations not suitable for larger nuclear power plants. Prefabricated units of SMRs can be manufactured and then shipped and installed on site as distinct to large power reactors, which are often custom-designed for a particular location.

In comparison to existing large reactors, proposed SMR designs are generally simpler, and the safety concept often relies more on passive systems and inherent safety characteristics of the reactor, such as low power and operating pressure. As outlined by the IAEA, SMRs may potentially offer savings in cost and construction time, and they can be deployed incrementally to match increasing energy demand.

/Public Release. View in full here.