Small Modular Nuclear reactors – they’re a problem, not a solution

NOT THE SOLUTION  Mark Cooper, Ph.D.  Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis  Institute for Energy and the Environment  Vermont Law School  May 2014 
 “………..Unachievable assumptions about cost: Even industry executives and regulators believe
the SMR technology will have costs that are substantially higher than the failed “nuclear renaissance”
technology on a per unit of output. The higher costs result from
• lost economies of scale in containment structures, dedicated systems for control,
management and emergency response, and the cost of licensing and security,
• operating costs between one-fifth and one-quarter higher, and
• decommissioning costs between two and three times as high.
SMRs Australia
Irresponsible assumptions about a rush to market: To reduce the cost disadvantage and
meet the urgent need for climate policy, advocates of SMR technology propose to deploy large
numbers of reactors (50 or more), close to population centers, over a short period of time. This
compressed RD&D schedule embodies a rush to market that does not make proper provision for
early analysis, testing, and demonstration to provide an opportunity for experience-based design
modifications. This is exactly the problem that arose in the 1970s, when utilities ordered 250
reactors and ended up cancelling more than half of them when the technology proved to be
expensive and flawed.
Unrealistic assumptions about the scale of the sector: While each individual reactor
would be smaller, the idea of creating an assembly line for SMR technology would require a massive
financial commitment. If two designs and assembly lines are funded to ensure competition, by 2020
an optimistic cost scenario suggests a cost of more than $72 billion; a more realistic level would be
over $90 billion. This massive commitment reinforces the traditional concern that nuclear power will
crowd out the alternatives. Compared to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates
of U.S. spending on generation over the same period, these huge sums are equal to
• three-quarters of the total projected investment in electricity generation and
• substantially more than the total projected investment in renewables.
Radical changes in licensing and safety regulation: SMR technologies raise unique safety
challenges including inspection of manufacturing and foreign plants, access to below ground
facilities, integrated systems, waste management, retrieval of materials with potentially higher levels
of radiation, flooding for below-ground facilities, and common designs that create potential
“epidemic” failure. Yet ,SMR advocates want pre-approval and limited review of widely dispersed
reactors located in close proximity to population centers and reductions in safety margins, including
shrinking containment structures, limitations of staff for safety and security, consolidation of control
to reduce redundancy, and much smaller evacuation zones. In the wake of global post-Fukushima
Calls for more rigorous safety regulation, policymakers and safety regulators are likely to look
askance at proposals to dramatically relax safety oversight.
Unfounded claims of unique supply and demand advantages: Despite their high costs,
advocates argue that smaller reactors are more attractive than large reactors because they are more
flexible, requiring smaller capital commitments and shorter construction times.
• By these same criteria, non-nuclear alternatives are far more attractive – smaller, less
costly, quicker to market, and already scalable.
• The alternatives also do not possess the security and proliferation risks and

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