Science & Technology

Correct Planet Newsletter: Can Small Nuclear Power Be Larger?

Rolls-A mockup of what one of Royce SMR’s new mini nuclear power plants will look like.

Rolls Royce

Hello. Welcome to Fix the Planet this week. This is a weekly climate change newsletter that reminds us of the reasons for hope in science and technology around the world. To receive this free monthly newsletter in your inbox, Sign up here..

I just recovered from COP26 Summit In Glasgow Where 196 countries have agreed to step up action on climate change.. Wind and solar power are often broadcast extensively at the United Nations Climate Summit, but nuclear power has historically been largely non-existent, despite providing a stable supply of low-carbon electricity.

Unusually, nuclear power was screened at an official conference event in Glasgow, dealing with bystanders and featured at a press conference.

One new technology has appeared several times. Small Module Reactor (SMR), a small nuclear power plant built in a factory and transported to the site for assembly. A British consortium led by Rolls-Royce wants to build a fleet domestically to export renewable energy to the world as a low-carbon supplement. Consortium during COP26 Received £ 210 million from the UK Government.. Private investment is expected to increase in the near future.

But there are many questions.Why this technology needs to be successful In recent years, large nuclear power plants have been unable to take offBeyond China? If they are small, do they make a significant dent in emissions? And will they be in time to make a difference in a rapidly warming world? read.

What is the pitch?

Large new nuclear power plants such as Olkiluoto 3 in Finland and Hinkley Point C in the United Kingdom are notorious for being over-scheduled and over-budget. Assuming Olkiluoto 3 will reach full power as planned next year, 13 years late..And huge upfront costs – about £ 23 billion for Hinckley – Means that it can take a long time to get the final investment decision for a new plant, as follows: The green light on the other side of the UK is slow..

Proponents of SMR claim to solve these problems. This is because it is faster and cheaper to build the SMR in the factory and assemble it in the field. In addition, they state that technology will become more flexible and will be an important quality of energy systems that are increasingly dominated by the diverse nature of renewable energies. “The big driving force here is pace,” said Alastair Evans. Rolls Royce SMR.. “These are not large-scale nuclear projects. We are not building the world’s largest steam turbine, the world’s largest crane. Europe’s largest construction site.. “

What exactly are you planning?

The reactor that Rolls-Royce SMR wants to build has been in development for six years and has its roots in what was previously built for nuclear submarines. Despite being claimed to be small, the new reactor design is quite large. Each capacity is 470 MW, 300 MW, typically seen as the upper limit of SMR.. The consortium initially wants to build four plants at existing nuclear power plants around the UK. Ultimately, as aging nuclear power plants are deprecated, we need a fleet of 16 enough to replace the nuclear capacity expected to be lost in the UK over the last decade. After that, SMR may be exported all over the world.

Evans states that the initial SMR costs around £ 2.3 billion and could be operational by 2031. He argues that later versions could drop to £ 1.8 billion. This may seem cheaper than Hinkley, but a double-capacity offshore wind farm currently costs around £ 1 billion, and that number will be even lower in 10 years.

Why is the plan successful?

“I think it has a lot of potential,” says analyst Richard Howard, Aurora Energy Research. First, the expected subsidy costs of the Rolls-Royce SMR are significantly higher than the obvious alternatives that provide a continuous supply of low-carbon electricity: large nuclear and gas plants with carbon capture and storage. Is low. Second, he states that SMRs need to be more flexible and able to dial up and dial down their outputs as needed, compared to large nuclear power plants that are normally in operation at all times. I am. “What SMR offers is a very good complement to renewable energy,” says Howard.

He believes there are two reasons why the Rolls-Royce SMR vision can be realized. One is that the private sector is investing a lot of money in development. The other is the growing international interest in technology. France is working to reduce its share of nuclear power in the energy mix, Last year, the government increased interest in SMR..Romania and Bulgaria Recently signed contract With a US SMR developer who can pave the way for Europe’s first SMR towards the end of the decade. Canada and the United States have long been interested.

What makes them stumble?

SMR has been developed for many years, but has barely penetrated to this day. The UK government has been discussing them for the past decade and has nothing to say. Progress is slow in other parts of the world. Outside Russia, there are no commercial SMRs connected to the power grid. Even China, one of the few countries to build new nuclear power plants in recent years We just started building a demo SMR earlier this year, 4 years late. It wasn’t until last year that the major US company NuScale appeared. The design was approved by U.S. authorities..

Paul Dorfman of the non-profit Nuclear Consulting Group, a group of scholars critical of nuclear power, says it’s hard to understand why economies of scale always argue that economies of scale lower costs. increase. He says modularization (building a reactor in a factory) will only reduce costs if those factories have a complete purchase order, but that may not happen. “It’s chicken and eggs on the supply chain,” he says. He also states that plants still produce radioactive waste (Another potential next-generation nuclear technology, fusion,). And he fears that nuclear sites near coasts and rivers will become more and more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as storm surges, as the ocean rises.

What’s next?

Rolls-Royce SMR Group This month we submitted a reactor design for approval According to the UK Nuclear Regulatory Authority, this process can take up to about five years. Currently, you need to select three locations for your factory and start building them. This group also needs to win a contract for difference with the UK Government. It guarantees the lowest rate of electricity generated by SMR. So far, that doesn’t seem like a big obstacle, given that the government is supporting this technology.

The technology is still young and may have problems. The cost savings that we are proud of through modularization may not be realized. The planning process can cause problems. Still, Howard said: “There are challenges, but I think we can overcome them.”

It is not yet known if SMRs will play an important role in supporting renewable energy decarbonized power grids, but observers believe that SMRs will play a role. “In my summary, renewable energy alone cannot reach net zero. Paper SMRs seem to offer compelling suggestions,” says Howard.

Other fixes

  • How much has COP26 changed the process of warming this century? One analysis during the summit The pledge proposed to Glasgow put the world in orbit at 2.4 ° C.However paper Was announced in Natural climate change On Monday, we say we need to stop looking for such a level of accuracy, and a range of 2.2 ° C to 2.9 ° C is a better way to consider the results.
  • Speaking of Glasgow, a wind farm near the city is getting a new neighbor an electrolytic cell that uses water and the renewable electricity of a turbine to make “green hydrogen.”Details of hydrogen this New Scientist paper..
  • Stormwater can be used to help microorganisms generate electricity in microbial fuel cells, a team of researchers have shown.For more information Royal Society Open Science yesterday..
  • Wind and solar are dominated by UK renewables, but tidal power is set to be boosted by the UK government Announced £ 20m Grant for Project Yesterday..
  • Although the number of countries and companies with a net zero pledge has increased dramatically, What’s New with Today’s ECIU Think TankAbout half of the companies Controversial ideas for carbon offsets..

Elsewhere New Scientist Space, you may be interested This story about what the collapse of the British energy company Bulb means for the renewable energy revolution, And to know Discovery Tours is hosting a new wildlife tour in Sri Lanka..

Details of these topics:

Correct Planet Newsletter: Can Small Nuclear Power Be Larger?

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