Small modular reactors (SMRs) have the potential to reshape the energy market and help the world reach net zero emissions by 2050, but also contribute to staying at net zero beyond mid-century. To help policymakers around the globe understand and take advantage of this innovative nuclear power technology, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) has launched the SMR Dashboard, which tracks progress in the development and commercialization of SMRs.
Small modular nuclear reactors can support decarbonization by replacing fossil fuels in electricity generation and heat and power cogeneration for heavy industries and district heating, as well as off-grid diesel generators for mining and industry. It can also enable large-scale water treatment and desalination to produce clean potable water, according to a statement from NEA. The agency operates within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
SMRs are smaller than conventional gigawatt-scale nuclear reactors, with some of them as small as 1 MW to 10 MW. Other advantages include factory production, portability, and scalable deployment, according to the SMR Dashboard.
Advantages of SMRs: factory production, portability
SMR technologies under development vary in technology, size, and configuration. They can be land-based or floating on water, fixed installations or transportable, according to NEA.
Some SMR technologies have already been demonstrated at lab and commercial scales, while others are still in the research and development stages. Timelines for their deployment vary based on technology and regulatory readiness levels, but some are expected to be demonstrated and commercialized before 2030 and others to follow later in the 2030s, according to the SMR Dashboard.
Some SMR technologies could be commercialized before 2030
“The next five to ten years is going to be pivotal in terms of getting these new technologies to market. The NEA SMR Dashboard will help decision-makers understand the pace of progress to commercial deployment of these technologies as they consider the paths available to achieve net zero by 2050,” said NEA Director-General William Magwood.
IPCC: The 1.5°C scenario calls for tripling global nuclear capacity by 2050
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), pathways to limiting global warming at the 1.5°C target call for total installed nuclear power capacity around the world to nearly triple by 2050, from 394 GW in 2020 to 1,160 GW, NEA noted in the SMR Dashboard.
The report’s first edition tracks the progress of 21 SMR designs from all over the world toward their first deployment, while future editions will include additional technologies as verifiable information becomes available, NEA said.