Small Modular Reactors

In order to avoid large negative consequences from climate change, the world must decarbonise its energy systems. Over the past few decades, there have been several fortuitous movements towards this goal. Many countries are now less carbon-intense, thanks to their exploitation of new energy sources like natural gas and renewables, as well as more efficient use of energy.

And yet, when compared to the scale of the problem, progress to date has been dismal. Despite the rise of renewable energy technologies and the more efficient use of energy resources, we can still expect fossil fuels to dominate the global energy mix well into the middle of this century, especially in non-OECD countries, like India and China.

So, what is the possible contribution of nuclear power generation in the next decades?

IRGC was invited by its partners, the Climate and Decision-making Center at Carnegie Mellon University, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI), to co-organise a collaborative workshop on Small Modular Reactors in November 2013, at PSI in Baden.

IRGC itself does not have any position on nuclear power generation, but is concerned about the challenge faced by the world to get access to sufficient, reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity to meet the needs of growing populations and economies. Triggered by the difficulty to make sustainable energy trade-offs, IRGC wished to explore the relevance and possibility of deploying so-called “small modular reactors”, that have the capacity to be more affordable, reliable and safe, and thus contribute to produce the much needed electricity, in particular in developing countries.

After the workshop, the organisers wrote two papers highlighting the attractiveness of SMRs for many developing countries and describing the technical and institutional challenges their development poses:

  • Abdulla, A. and Granger Morgan (2015): “Nuclear Power for the Developing World”, Issues in Science and Technology Winter 2015: 55-61. Download (pdf)
  • Prasad, S., Abdulla, A., Morgan, G. and Inés L. Azevedo (2015): “Nonproliferation Improvements and Challenges Presented by Small Modular Reactors”, Progress in Nuclear Energy 80: 102-109. Download (pdf)

Dr Ahmed Abdulla also wrote an Opinion Piece for publication by IRGC. The paper does not address technical issues (mostly material science challenges), economic issues (discussion of the challenges exists elsewhere), or issues of public attitude. It focuses on the institutional challenges posed by SMRs. The Opinion Piece was published in June 2015 and is available for download here (pdf).



Picture: Exterior of the Lynchburg, US-VA, SMR testing lab. Courtesy of Ben Bradford / WFAE