Electricity

Small modular reactors seen with 2% share of global electricity supply in 2043

Small modular reactors 2 share global electricity supply 2043

Photo: Alexander Seetenky / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode

Published

June 29, 2023

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Published:

June 29, 2023

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The next decade will be the one of establishment for SMRs, with early demonstration reactors built, followed by a rapid expansion through 2043, IDTechEx said in its new outlook. Shorter construction times and lower costs are set to propel the emerging technology to a 2% share in global electricity supply at the end of the period, the authors of the report found.

Small modular reactors promise to offer cheaper nuclear energy, supplying zero-carbon grid baseload and enabling new business models for nuclear reactors, IDTechEx said. In its report Nuclear Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) 2023-2043, the research firm and consultancy pointed out that assembly line production significantly shortens both the construction period and capital expenditure, though with a rise in operational costs.

The technology, already operational in Russia and China, will be competitive with renewables and storage, the authors claimed. They estimated SMRs are on the path to reaching a 2% global share of electricity supply twenty years from now.

Widening adoption will require both technical and regulatory developments, including development in fuel supply chains and international licensing standardization, the company warned.

Mass manufacturing, modular design slash costs

SMRs are small nuclear fission reactors mostly under 300 MW, partially factory-built and transported to site as modules. Economies of scale are transferred from the large size of individual and conventional nuclear projects to manufacturing higher volumes. Data was gathered on 83 projects for small modular reactors.

SMRs could use existing infrastructure at the sites of old nuclear or fossil fuel power plants

Furthermore, they could directly provide process heat to emissions-heavy industries. They include steelmaking, alongside electricity, according to the outlook. SMRs could use existing infrastructure at the sites of old nuclear or fossil fuel power plants, it noted.

Early demonstration units are expected to be built within the next ten years. They are aimed at proving commercial feasibility and gaining operational excellence. After that, through 2043, high-speed growth is expected, research results showed.

GE-Hitachi’s BWRX-300 is envisaged to take just two to three years to be installed. It compares to a mean construction period of eight years for large reactors, the document reads.

Supply chain has long way to go

One of the main issues was registered in the supply chain, slowing down the initial rollout. It is particularly relevant for specialized fuel types. Efforts are already in place to solve it. The United States has made USD 700 million in funding available to support the production of the HALEU (High Assay Low Enriched Uranium). It is sought for numerous SMR designs.

The licensing process for nuclear reactors is famously long-winded, ensuring safety is a key priority, researchers stressed. In their view, increasing the transferability of approval between individual sites and internationally would prevent duplication of work.

The global market for small modular reactors is expected to reach USD 72.4 billion by 2033 and USD 295 billion by 2043, the report says.

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