By Craig Frame on Jan 28th, 2014 - A critique of the I.E.E.R report, looking at the studies conducted on the viability and benefits of SMR design and utilization.
A recent report released by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (I.E.E.R) attempted to undermine popular opinion of the feasibility of using SMRs as a source of Nuclear Energy. This is contrary to many studies conducted by industry professionals that outline the practicality of SMR design on a number of levels, including the cost effective nature of the technology and enhanced safety features.
One such study was conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (P.N.A.S). Through a series of interviews "16 experts who are involved in, or have access to, engineering-economic assessments of SMR projects" were asked a variety of questions relating to cost benefits and safety attributes of SMR designs.
On the subject of the ability to produce SMRs in factories to be transported to required sites, thus reducing manufacturing costs, the IEER report claimed that this would in fact increase costs. This is in opposition to the PNAS report in which it was found that 7 of the interviewees stated that factory fabrication was of 'utmost value' (financially) while 8 stated that it was of at least significant financial value.
Other economic benefits were outlined by the PNAS report, which, contrary to the IEER report, collated definite qualitative data of industry experts. The interviews also found that in terms of 'shorter construction schedules' 13 experts viewed this as being between 'of some value' and 'of utmost value'. The 'inherent simplicity of design' was thought to be financially beneficial by 13 of the interviewees. The conclusion of the report noted that:
"There was consensus that SMRs could be built and brought online about 2 years faster than large reactors. Experts identify more affordable unit cost, factory fabrication, and shorter construction schedules as factors that may make light water SMRs economically viable."
In an article release by the National Nuclear Laboratory the factors beyond the initial capital investment were looked at. This included the cost savings due to:
"Simpler, smaller designs with a reduced number of components…also have the potential for low operating strategies."
The article also makes the point that comparing the economics of SMR designs vs. large nuclear plants may not be the best comparison to make. Instead the comparison with non-nuclear electricity generation types (gas, coal and renewables) is the more relevant argument. This position is one that the I.E.E.R report fails to address thoroughly.
Addressing this issue directly, NuScale's Chief Commercial Officer Mike McGough estimated the cost for electricity generation by their SMR to be $0.08-$0.09 per kilowatt hour. McGough states that in comparison with today's …"market natural gas prices…nuclear will have a hard time competing". However, due to the expected rise in natural gas prices, by the time NuScale's SMR is fully operational McGough believes that "our plants will be very competitive."