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Visualized: The Four Benefits of Small Modular Reactors

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Nuclear power has a crucial role to play on the path to net zero. Traditional nuclear plants, however, can be costly, resource-intensive, and take up to 12 years to come online.

Small modular reactors (SMR) offer a possible solution.

Created in partnership with the National Public Utilities Council, this infographic explores some of the benefits SMRs can offer their traditional counterparts. Let’s dive in.

The Four Key Benefits of SMRs, Explained

An SMR is a compact nuclear reactor that is typically less than 300 megawatts electric (MWe) in capacity and manufactured in modular units.

Here are some of the benefits they offer.

#1: Lower Costs

SMRs require a lower upfront capital investment due to their compact size.

SMRs can also match the per-unit electricity costs of traditional reactors due to various economic efficiencies related to their modular design, including design simplification, factory fabrication, and potential for regulatory harmonization.

#2: Quicker Deployment

Traditional nuclear plants can take up to 12 years to become operational. This is primarily due to their site-specific designs and substantial on-site labor involved in construction.

SMRs, on the other hand, are largely manufactured in factories and are location-independent, which minimizes on-site labor and expedites deployment timelines to as little as three years. This means they can be deployed relatively quickly to provide emissions-free electricity to the grid, supporting growing electricity needs.

 #3: Siting Flexibility and Land Efficiency

SMRs have greater siting flexibility compared to traditional reactors due to their smaller size and modular design. In addition, they can utilize land more effectively than traditional reactors, yielding a higher output of electrical energy per unit of land area.

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Given their flexibility, SMRs are also suitable for installation on decommissioned coal power plant sites, which can support the transition to clean electricity while utilizing existing transmission infrastructure.

 #4: Safety

SMRs have simpler designs, use passive cooling systems, and require lower power and operating pressure, making them inherently safer to operate than traditional reactors.

They also have different refueling needs compared to traditional plants, needing refueling every 3–7 years instead of the 1–2 years typical for large plants. This minimizes the transportation and handling of nuclear fuel, mitigating the risk of accidents.

The Road Ahead

As of early 2024, only five SMRs are operating worldwide. But with several other projects under construction and nearly 20 more in advanced stages of development, SMRs hold promise for expanding global emission-free electricity capacity.

With that said, certain obstacles remain for the wide-scale adoption of SMRs in the United States, which was particularly apparent in the 2023 cancellation of the NuScale SMR project.

To fully realize the benefits of SMRs and advance decarbonization efforts, a focus on financial viability, market readiness, and broader utility and public support may be essential.

Learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization here.

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The National Public Utilities Council (NPUC) is a leading research organization dedicated to driving progress in the decarbonization of power generation. The council fosters collaboration between public utilities, providing a platform for sharing ideas and finding innovative solutions to the challenges of reducing carbon emissions.