Small nuclear teething troubles

The nuclear world is changing rapidly. Disappearing fast are the massive, complex project builds which took years to come to fruition and were invariably substantially over budget. Technology is evolving so that the world of large light-water reactors – which have been the mainstay of design for decades – is being replaced by small modular reactors. These are touted as more efficient, more nimble, and the future for the nuclear industry.

However, despite the positive press that small nuclear has received in recent months, with competitive tender processes in Europe and the US receiving considerable attention, all is not rosy in this particular garden at present.

A particularly worrying recent development was the announcement earlier this month by NuScale that it was cancelling plans to deploy six 77-megawatt reactors in Idaho by 2030- reactors which would have been the nation’s first such small nuclear builds.

One of the problems touted here were soaring costs: In January, NuScale said the price of building the reactors had jumped from $5.3 billion to a hefty $9.3 billion, citing rising interest rates and higher building materials costs.

Aside from costs, NuScale hasn’t had it easy as it is a pioneer and has had to overcome a number of regulatory hurdles. Another issue is that the US isn’t yet producing enough for the specialised fuel needed for advanced reactors.

Are such problems small ones? Of course not. Are they insurmountable? No. We musn’t let the sad news from NuScale throw us off course. Nuclear is vital in the transition away from fossil fuels, and small nuclear will be the future. We need to hold firm.

Marcus Alcock

Editor, Emerging Risks