Thursday, 5 November 2015

SMRs face multiple challenges

Last month China’s President Xi was feted in a State Visit, including a  banquet with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace and meeting at 10 Downing Street with Prime Minister David Cameron, as part of finalizing a major industrial partnership deal, which involved  several deals on inward nuclear investment in the UK, including  a  £6 billion  ( $ 9bn) investment (about a third of the project cost) (‘Britain to Grant China a Large Stake in Nuclear Industry’, New York Times, October. 22, 2015;  in EDF Energy’s GW-size Hinkley C nuclear plant, by the Chinese-state owned  China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN).

Meanwhile, eastwards across London over 130 nuclear company representatives, R&D specialists and innovators, along with some and key policy players, met in the shadow of The Tower of London for NEI’s two-day Small Modular Reactor (SMR) UK summit.

Westinghouse’s roving global chief, Jeff Benjamin, vice president for new plants and major projects, chose the Summit to unveil his company’s plans to offer the UK government a partnership in the deployment of small modular reactor (SMR) technology, “a move that would advance the UK from being a buyer to a global provider of the latest nuclear energy technology, According to a Westinghouse statement. The proposal is intended to complement the current Phase 2 SMR study that the UK government has recently commenced.

As proposed, the partnership would be structured as a UK-based enterprise jointly owned by Westinghouse, the UK government and UK industry, in which Benjamin revealed to the Summit it would be expected the British government would take an equity stake, which could be reduced as the risk profile reduces.

In an outspoken in presentation, Benjamin, who asserted he was not a big corporate profit –driver, said for Westinghouse “nuclear was not a be all-end all technology,” and conceded that despite Westinghouse planning to base its SMR operations at its UK base in Springfields nuclear fuel plant near Manchester, some of the Westinghouse SMR equipment may be covered by restrictive US export controls.


In early 2014 the popular US science monthly, Scientific American, carried an article on SMRs entitled ‘Is There a New Nuclear Kid on the Block?’


It quoted the World Nuclear Association's most optimistic estimate that there could be as many as 96 SMRs up and running by 2030, suggesting some 20 designs at various stages of development were already underway. The SMRUK summit is in many ways the next corporate stepping stone in the SMR evaluation process.

British opportunities

On 26 February this year the British Government's published its response to the House of Commons Energy Committee report on Small Nuclear Reactors, which was released on 17 December last year. The response stated the UK Government recognises the long-term potential of SMRs as an additional source of generation, which is why it commissioned the SMR feasibility study …published by the [UK ] National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL)in December 2014, [which] provided an initial evidence base for SMRs and whether there is a role for SMRs in the UK.”

It recommended a more in-depth analysis to establish the robust evidence base needed to enable a policy decision on SMRs and help Government decide whether it wants to pursue a UK SMR programme. This second phase of work is now underway.


The Summit heard from three key British contributors to this work. Mike Middleton, strategy manager for nuclear at the Public-private Energy Technologies Institute, which published its own interesting scoping study on The role for nuclear within a low carbon energy system ( in early October.


And also from Dame Professor Sue Ian, former executive director of technology for British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) and now a chair of the UK Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB) ( and several times from Dr Gordon Waddington, a 35-year veteran of Rolls Royce, ending up as President for Civil nuclear research, who is also a past Chairman of the Industrial Advisory Board Imperial College (London),  and who drafted the 64-page UK feasibility study on SMRs, released  by the UK NNL in early December last year ( He chaired the Summit with good humor and expertise.


Waddington claimed as “it was always going to be difficult for the UK”  to be directly involved in the large (GW) reactors development  – as there are several major global (ie non –British) players-  SMRs are “an option for the UK to enter the reactor market.” But, he stressed, the economic climate has to be right.


Dame Sue, who chaired a closed UK-only workshop convened by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) - which led to the 2014 UKNNL SMR feasibility study- made a strong appeal for Government investment in new nuclear research including  for SMR R,D&D, especially when the DECC internal techno-economic assessment (TEA) study is complete.


Warning that the UK regulator needs serious technology to assess – “stuff not fluff “ as she dubbed it-  she said NIRAB  has made a bid for substantial resource support from the Treasury (finance ministry) in the UK Government in the UK Comprehensive Spending Review that will be published late in November.


The ETI is arguing the UK could accommodate up to 75 GW of new nuclear in the UK to help decarbonize the UK power generation sector. Using a model developed by ETI (Energy System Modelling Environment, ESME), Middleton said SMRs could provide some 63 GW of this new capacity, especially if they were developed in conjunction with a planned national  heat grid program for domestic district heating and industrial process heat, to enhance the SMRs’ economic competitiveness.


It became clear from Summit discussions  that  many considered there would be considerable siting problems for so much capacity especially if greenfield sites beyond Government-owned locations, such as surplus defense department land, and existing nuclear installation locations , were sought.


Professor Andrew Sherry, chief science and technology officer for UK NNL, in a presentation on public perceptions of new nuclear, flagged up several  key new siting and public perception issues with which promoters of SMRs will have to engage. These include:

SMRs will have new designs and concepts; prototypes will provide essential learning tools; the costs are at present unknown, but they will come down with modular production; they could have a dual power and heat production purpose; their siting will demand different engagement with communities than GW size plants, as many SMRs  will inevitably be built much closer to centres of concentrated populationa.

He pointed out that DECC’s Public Attitudes Tracker survey of energy technologies, that 

“support for the use of nuclear energy has dropped to its lowest level so far during the tracker. At ‘wave 14’ one third (33%) supported this, whilst around a quarter (24%) were opposed. However, although support was higher at this point in previous years - 36% in June 2014, 37% in June 2013.”

Meanwhile,  the UK Nuclear Industry Council ( ) - on which Professor Sherry sits -   is on the verge of publishing a new report “Nuclear Energy and Society’. Professor Sherry give a sneak preview of “this concordat on public engagement” to the Summit, which he emphasized recognizes the need to take the public concerns about the nuclear industry seriously. To this end, the NIC report will ensure that its engagement with the public will be characterised by best practice including:


Dialogue: We value two-way communication and will listen to the public voice.;

Trust: We seek to build public trust by showing respect and being open and transparent about the challenges we face and the actions we are taking to address them.

Clarity: We ensure that public engagement is characterised by clear, consistent and concise information written or spoken in plain language.

Consultation: We listen to communities and actively consult with them, particularly when our activities impact on daily life.



Two Summit speakers on prospective investment in SMRs - Dominic Holt of PWC and Anurag Gupta of KPMG -  indicated they considered investors would  be more likely to provide support if SMRs made sense in their own power generation  terms, and were not complicated by attachment to DH systems, Additionally contributors wondered whether projected SMR costs would be believed in light of huge cost escalations in the currently under construction GW  reactors at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France


Ron Cameron of UK Trade and Investment observed some of the cost history of [GW nuclear stations]  has been “disappointing to put it mildly. First of a kind (foak) reactors have  many difficulties:- SMRs will too.” He stressed the big challenge was getting factory modularization to greater than 50% of the total.


Technology showcase


Several would-be suppliers of SMRs presented status reports on designs and development of their own SMR prototypes.



Reactor Diagram

NuScale’s executive vice president for program development, Tom Mundy, argued that SMRs are part of the energy mix, and  should not be regarded as alternatives to big GW reactors. NuScale has to date  gained backing of $217 million from the US Department of Energy for reactor development, based on an early conceptual design by on eof NuScale’s founderswhen he worked at Oregon State University  a decade ago

Each NuScale Power ModuleTM is a self-contained module that operates independently of the other modules in a multi-module configuration. All modules are managed from a single control room. The reactor measures 65 feet tall x 9 feet in diameter, and  sits within a containment vessel. Design certification Is expected by end of 2016. He pointed out the NNL SMR feasibility study last December described the NuScale Module concept as “credible” and deployable within 10 years

He claimed that the levelized cost of power from the NuScale Module would be $100 MWh, considerably cheaper than the projected cost of the Hinkley C GW reactor, although he did not provide details for the basis of such claims. He also erroneously claimed nuclear power produces carbon-free electricity, which I sonly true if the front and back –end industrial emissions are ignored.

Perhaps the most novel reactor type discusses the Summit was the micro-SMR from British company U-Batteries (, with an output of only 4MWe. The concept design suggests a single generation hall for the U-Battery – which would use

The company hopes to have the demonstration U-Battery operating by 2023 at the URENCO site at Capenhurst, close to Manchester. A market scoping study by CollinsonGrant released in April 2014 suggested that there could be a world market for this micro-SMR of 280 by 2035, including 41 in the UK,

U-Battery presenter, Dr Paul Harding, a former URENCO MD, was the only SMR promoter  to mention security and proliferation concerns with the prospective deployment of thousands of new  reactors worldwide, which is a significant omission from the other presentations  As with ETI’s Mike Middleton, he stressed the importance of securing UK IP for SMRs concepts.

Other concepts were presented by the UK’s Rolls Royce, Bruce Power and Hatch  from Canada and  China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC)’s New Energy Company ( .

The latter would be competing with its big brother GW Plants, as CNNC looks for global market expansion. Its ACP-100 design, which has been under development since the Fukushima accident in Japan in March 2011, would be multifunctional for co-generation,

In China, it would require a much shrunk emergency planning zone as ACP-100s would be built close to urban areas.

Senior CNNC engineer, Dr Song Danrong, said CNNC wants to co-ooerate with the UK nuclear sector to promote innovation and overcome technical challenges. And to build a FOAK, to overcome economic challenges

In a special lunchtime presentation, Dr Danrong stressed that the benefits of SMRs is that “with lower power, lower residual heating, suitable for passive safety facilities application.” Included in its applications is a floating reactor ship, that could provide off shore power, and desalination support.


CNNC says the technical characteristics of ACP100 comprise:


Innovative SMR ACP100 is a self-reliance NPP design of CNNC􀂋Integrated layout of reactor􀂋Forced coolant circulation􀂋Steam pressurizer􀂋internal OTSG􀂋Canned primary pumps􀂋Integrated head package􀂋Passive safety systems􀂋Digital I&C


SMR Design Concept Families

Water-cooled SMRs

•CAREM-25(Argentina) ACP100(China) Flexblue(France) AHWR300(India) IRIS(International) DMS(Japan) IMR(Japan) SMART(S Korea) KLT-40S(Russia) VBER-300(Russia) ABV-6M(Russia ) RITM-200(Russia) VVER300(Russia) VK-300(Russia) UNITHERM(Russia) RUTA-70(Russia) mPower(US) NuScale(US) Westinghouse SMR(US) SMR-160(US) Elena(Russia) SHELF(Russia)


High Temperature Gas-cooled SMRs

•HTR-PM(China) GTHTR300(Japan) GT-MHR(Russia) MHR-T(Russia) MHR-100(Russia) PBMR-400(SA) HTMR-100(SA) EM2(US) SC-HTGR(US) Xe-100(US) U-Battery (UK)


Liquid-metal cooled Fast SMRs

•CEFR(China) PFBR-500(India) 4S(Japan) SVBR-100(Russia) BREST-300(Russia) PRISM(US) Gen4 Module(US) Astrid (France)


Molten-salt cooled SMRs

•Terrestrial En (Canada) Seaborg Tech (Den) Fuji (Japan) LFTR (China) Moltex (UK) EVOL (EU) Flibe Energy (US) WAMSR Transatom (US)


Source: Presentation by Professor Tony Roulstone, University of Cambridge


Regulating SMRs: a new challenge

Perhaps the most provocative presentation came from Dr Kristiina Soderholm, the engaging head of research development for Finish power generator, Fortum. ( She opened her presentation on radical regulation revision with a photograph of her skydiving –highly appropriate for a presentation on risk regulation- , and went on to challenge the audience to think outside the box, as she argue f or international standards for  generic  licensing for core sections of SMRs; to make national regulation more streamlined. Her challenging ideas provoked lively debate among Summit attendees.

One really surprising omission from every single presentation was consideration of the long term management of radioactive waste arisings from such a huge projected increase in nuclear capacity, especially a sit is recognized  the greatest public concern over nuclear surrounds radioactive waste. Next year’s SMR summit surely needs to correct this.


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