nuscale reactor

SMR’s, the latest nuclear innovation?

SMR’s, the latest nuclear innovation?

No doubt you have heard about SMR’s – Small Modular Reactors – / AMR’s – Advanced Modular Reactors – over the past few years. These small reactors – 300 MWe per module max – have even eclipsed the Gen IV reactors. Are SMR’s the next nuclear innovation?

With over 50 concepts and designs, some players will definitely come out of the race in the next few years.

According to the World Nuclear Association, the potential of SMR’s is based on the following factors:

  • Small size and modularity, allowing to be built in a factory to improve efficiency;
  • Passive safety allowing them to be deployed in countries with limited nuclear experience;
  • Small output allowing them to be deployed in countries with reduced electricity grid;
  • Reduced costs allowing them to be attractive to external investors.

It is interesting to see how the trend picked up. In reality, if you look at the electricity output, we have had SMR’s for decades as the industry started with small reactors and increased their output. Historically speaking, the PWR technology is a US submarine reactor, so an SMR, that was then converted to be used on-shore.

But it really picked up 15 years ago when countries started facing uncontrollable costs associated to updated safety measures – following events such as TMI or Fukushima – and realised the benefits of keeping it small.

World-wide competition

The first country that really started having a new look at SMR’s is undoubtedly the U.S. with a call from application from DOE in 2012 allowing a grant to SMR’s developers. The U.S. has been ever since supporting SMR’s, especially with NuScale that has been making a lot of noise with the implementation of its first units at Idaho National Labs.

nuscale reactor
How a NuScale site could look like. Source: NuScale

But other countries have been catching up quickly. Still in North America, Canada has been fairly active as they have clearly seen the benefits of using SMR’s in remote regions. Canada has been since developing a roadmap with local, national and international partners to make SMR’s a reality in the country.

In Europe, SMR’s started getting momentum, mostly in the U.K.. With fundings lower than the U.S., the U.K. has been allocating grants to some players such as the Urenco’s consortium, Westinghouse or Rolls Royce.

It is interesting to see that the largest nuclear European player, France stayed silent about SMR’s until recently. With France’s projects in submarine and aircraft carrier reactors, the country has experience. Few years ago, Naval group tried to develop an under water SMR, but the project was aborted.

In 2019, France announced Nuward, with a first construction expected in 2030.

Other countries such as China, Argentina or Russia have also been working on SMR’s, with plants already operating or under construction.

Different technologies

But the real interesting bit on SMR’s is the technologies and the concept used. For large scale reactors, there is a limited number of technologies operating: PWR, BWR, PHWR, etc. However, for SMR’s, there’s a wide range of technologies in development:

  • PWR;
  • BWR;
  • HTR;
  • FNR;
  • MSR;
  • technologies relying on Lead or Bismuth;
  • and others.

Considering the world-wide development seen this past decade, SMR’s are definitely a nuclear innovation. Before seeing a new SMR up and running, why not discovering other nuclear innovations by subscribing to our newsletter?


Independent associate focussed on business analysis and development in the nuclear industry. CEO, Master Brewer at inTechBrew

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