SMRs “back on the agenda next year”, says new report by Nuclear Energy Insider

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Following another year of turbulence a casual observer of the nuclear industry may be forgiven for concluding that Small Modular Reactor (SMR) development has stalled, but a new report suggests that, despite the negative headlines, a new sense of clarity and purpose is emerging around the technology’s commercialization, and concludes that SMRs look set to be back on the agenda next year.

Drawing on analysis from over one hundred hours of primary research and interviews with more than fifty leading specialists and decision makers, the report sheds new light on the crucial challenges faced by the sector in the past eight months, and identifies the vital next steps required to promote confidence, stability and a clear path forward for SMRs.

“From the outside it will seem that SMR development has hit a brick wall, but to lump the sector’s difficulties together with the death of the so-called nuclear renaissance would be missing the point,” said Kerr Jeferies, senior industry analyst at Nuclear Energy Insider and the report’s lead author.

“The unique underlying appeal of the SMR offering remains intact and indeed unchallenged by any emerging power generating techniques, and there are clear signs that the missing pieces of the puzzle – commercial, technological, and regulatory – could start falling into place next year.”

“It’s often said that the correct question about SMRs is not ‘if’ but ‘when’,” he added. “We think the best question now is ‘whose first?’”

By gathering intelligence from members of the whole community – from SMR vendors, developers, investors, and potential customers – the report paints a detailed picture of the current state of play, and identifies the main strands of thinking that will enable SMR commercialization to get back on track.

It finds optimism in the US market that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will establish policy on the broad siting and operational safety expectations concerning SMRs by the end of 2015.

It also finds that vendors and potential customers believe that NRC engagement with SMRs will provide impetus for other regulatory bodies around the world, paving the way towards globally exportable suites of products.

“We found vibrant and intense discussions going on now, crystallizing around a smaller number of themes,” said Jeferies, “specifically, licensing and design certification, funding streams, and assembling the required supply chains.”

The report predicts greater pressure coming to bear on the US government to fund SMR development. Outside the US, promising first-of-a-kind SMR projects are now under construction, in Argentina (CAREM-25), in Russia (KLT-40S) and in China (HTR-PM). What these projects have, however, is robust state backing.

Federal commitment to building a demonstration reactor will be necessary if SMRs are to be a means of “rebooting” the US’s role as a leader in nuclear power, the report finds.

“Headlines around things like Generation mPower’s restructuring and reduction in activity in April created a pervasive sense of pessimism, but we believe a more accurate picture is that 2014 has been a teething year, and that the SMR story hasn’t even really begun,” Jeferies said.

The report, “Small Modular Reactors: An industry in terminal decline or on the brink of a comeback?”, is available here: http://bit.ly/smrscomeback

Nuclear Energy Insider has also announced the return of its Small Modular Reactor Summit, to be held April 14-15, in Charlotte NC. With new content direction and expert speaker line up, it aims to be world-leading focal point for discussion on the trajectory of the pioneering SMR industry.

To pre-order the brochure, visit: http://bit.ly/smrbrochure

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Antonia Stuart
@iotnexus
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