Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Smaller is not always more beautiful

Philip Johnston rightly points out the failures of the French designed, Chinese State Bank-funded nuclear white elephant planned for Hinkley Point C in Somerset (“It is not yet too late to rethink this country’s nuclear power strategy,” Daily Telegraph, September 8

But he also suggests that what is needed  instead is a new era of nuclear power generation, focused on smaller, cheaper reactors designed and built here to provide local generation,” and suggests this would help create energy self-sufficiency.

The reactor type he advocates is commonly called the Small Modular Reactor (SMR), and it has also gained the attention of the US government. However, independent technological and economic studies of this reactor type have  discovered problems.

One such study, “Small Modular Reactors: Safety, Security and Cost Concerns” by the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Boston, published in September 2013, countered argument that SMRs can be built with a smaller capital investment than plants based on larger reactors, with their proponents suggesting that this will remove financial barriers:

“affordable” doesn’t necessarily mean “cost-effective.” Economies of scale dictate that, all other things being equal, larger reactors will generate cheaper power. SMR proponents suggest that mass production of modular reactors could offset economies of scale, but a 2011 study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centres’s Institute for Energy, ‘Economic viability of small to medium-sized reactors deployed in future European energy markets’ (Progress in Nuclear Energy concluded that SMRs would still be more expensive than current reactors.” (

Also, as the UK has no economically recoverable reserves of natural uranium, it would have to import the uranium for the nuclear fuel for SMRs from abroad.

With Kazakhstan, run by an autocratic regime and currently the world’s biggest supplier of uranium, this hardly increases energy security over imported gas.


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