Small Modular Reactors

The Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) has announced several partnerships to bring refrigerator-sized modular nuclear reactors, known as Small Modular Reactors or SMRs, to the Savannah River Site facility and jump start development of the U.S. Energy Freedom CenterTM.

Currently, all large commercial power reactors in the United States and most in the rest of the world are based on “light water” designs — that is, they use uranium fuel and ordinary water for cooling. By contrast, an emerging class of small reactors come in widely varying designs and use a variety of fuels and cooling systems, some can even utilize existing legacy radioactive waste as a fuel source. They range from downsized light-water reactors to more exotic liquid metal-cooled fast reactors, with the smallest designs beginning at a 10 MW capacity.

SMRs are different in other ways, as well. Some SMRs will be factory-built and delivered in sealed containers ready to operate. Some are intended for underground operation. Some will never need to be refueled, but rather can be removed by truck and replaced like a battery. Some will produce considerably less radioactive waste than current reactors. The modular designs allow adding increments of capacity as power needs increase over time. This kind of variety in nuclear power generation is largely unprecedented.

A new assessment of potential American jobs created by “development, manufacture, and deployment” of small modular reactors in the U.S. was unveiled on September 29, 2010 at a Center for Strategic & International Studies forum. The study was underwritten by the American Council on Global Nuclear Competitiveness. The study concludes that “development of a robust domestic SMR industry will result in significant economic benefits.” The analysis was a collaborative effort by the Boise State University in conjunction with the University of New Mexico. According to the report:

“A prototypical SMR costing $500 million to manufacture and install on-site is estimated to create nearly 7,000 jobs and generate $1.3 billion in sales, $627 million in value-added, $404 million in earnings (payroll) and $35 million in indirect business taxes. In addition, the annual operation of each 100 MW SMR unit is estimated to create about 375 jobs and generate $107 million in sales, $68 million in value-added, $27 million in earnings payroll) , and $9 million in indirect business taxes…. total economic impacts were determined to range from $200B – $400B.”

SRS is an ideal place to develop and demonstrate this new technology and offers the following benefits to the SRSCRO Region and the nation:

  • Job creation
  • Export of U.S. goods and service
  • Benefits to national security and energy policy
  • Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions

These prototype mini-nuclear reactors could go into a small modular reactor demonstration complex at SRS as part of a proposed demonstration of small modular reactor technologies at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Savannah River Site.. SRNL is in discussions with five or six other companies about building prototypes in a complex where manufacturers of small reactors can come and prove their technologies.

For a draft concept paper describing the Small Modular Reactor Demonstration Complex, click here.