Small modular reactor

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Illustration of a light water small modular nuclear reactor (SMR)

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are nuclear fission reactors that are smaller than conventional nuclear reactors and typically have an electrical power output of less than 300 MWe or a thermal power output of less than 1000 MWth.

They are designed to be manufactured at a plant and transported to a site to be installed. Modular reactors will reduce on-site construction and increase containment efficiency and are claimed to enhance safety. The greater safety should come via the use of passive safety features that operate without human intervention, a concept already implemented in some conventional nuclear reactor types. SMRs also reduce staffing versus conventional nuclear reactors.[1][2] SMRs are claimed to cross financial and safety barriers that inhibit the construction of conventional reactors.[2][3]

The term SMR refers to the size, capacity and modular construction only, not to the reactor type and the nuclear process which is applied. Designs range from scaled down versions of existing designs to generation IV designs. Both thermal-neutron reactors and fast-neutron reactors have been proposed, along with molten salt and gas cooled reactor models.[4]

While there are dozens of modular reactor designs and yet unfinished demonstration projects, the floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov, operating in Pevek in Russia's Far East, was as of the end of 2019 the first and only completed working prototype in the world connected to the grid. The plant has two reactors, each with a capacity of 35 MWe. The concept was based on the design of nuclear icebreakers.[5] The construction of the world's first commercial land-based SMR started in July 2021 with the Chinese power plant Linglong One. The operation of this prototype is due to start by the end of 2026.[6]

One hindrance to commercial use may be licensing, since current regulatory regimes are adapted to conventional designs. SMRs differ in terms of staffing, security and deployment time.[7] Licensing time, cost and risks are critical success factors. US government studies to evaluate SMR-associated risks have slowed licensing.[8][9][10] One concern with SMRs is preventing nuclear proliferation.[11][12]



Once the first unit of a given design is licensed, licensing subsequent units should be drastically simpler, given that all units operate in the same way.


A given power station can begin with a single module and expand by adding modules as demand grows. This reduces startup costs associated with conventional designs.[13]

SMRs have a load-following design so that when electricity demands are low they can produce less electricity.


SMR reactors will have a much smaller footprint, e.g., the 470 MWe 3-loop Rolls-Royce SMR reactor takes 40,000 m2 (430,000 sq ft), 10% of that needed for a traditional plant.[14] Among SMRs it is relatively large and involves more on-site construction. The firm is targeting a 500-day construction time.[15]

Electricity needs in remote locations are usually small and variable, making them suitable for a smaller plant.[16] The smaller size may also reduce the need for a grid to distribute their output.


Containment is more efficient, and proliferation concerns are much less.[17] For example, a pressure release valve may have a spring that can respond to increasing pressure to increase coolant flow. Inherent safety features require no moving parts to work, depending only on physical laws.[18] Another example is a plug at the bottom of a reactor that melts away when temperatures are too high, allowing the reactor fuel to drain out of the reactor and lose critical mass.

A report by the German Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) considering 136 different historical and current reactors and SMR concepts, found that compared to high-output nuclear power plants, individual SMRs could potentially achieve safety advantages, as they have a lower radioactive inventory per reactor. However, the high number of reactors required for the same production amount of electrical power increases the overall risk many times over. The report also argues that contrary to what is sometimes stated by manufacturers, it must be assumed that in the event of a serious accident, the radioactive contamination will extend well beyond the plant premises.[19][20][21]


The main SMR advantage is the lower costs stemming from central manufacturing and standardized designs.[22] However, SMR module transport needs further studies.[23]

A production cost calculation done by the German Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE), taking into account economies of scale, mass and learning effects from the nuclear industry, suggests that an average of 3,000 SMR would have to be produced before SMR production would be worthwhile. This is because the construction costs of SMR are relatively higher than those of large nuclear power plants due to the low electrical output.[21]


Many SMRs are designed to use unconventional fuels that allow for higher burnup and longer fuel cycles.[3] Longer refueling intervals can decrease proliferation risks and lower chances of radiation escaping containment. For reactors in remote areas, accessibility can be troublesome, so longer fuel life can be helpful.


A nuclear fission chain is required to generate nuclear power.

SMRs are envisioned in multiple designs. Some are simplified versions of current reactors, others involve entirely new technologies.[24] All proposed SMRs use nuclear fission. SMR designs include thermal-neutron reactors and fast-neutron reactors.

Thermal-neutron reactors[edit]

Thermal-neutron reactors rely on a moderator to slow neutrons and generally use 235
as fissile material. Most conventional operating reactors are of this type.

Fast reactors[edit]

Fast reactors don't use moderators. Instead they rely on the fuel to absorb higher speed neutrons. This usually means changing the fuel arrangement within the core, or using different fuels. E.g., 239
is more likely to absorb a high-speed neutron than 235

Fast reactors can be breeder reactors. These reactors release enough neutrons to transmute non-fissionable elements into fissionable ones. A common use for a breeder reactor is to surround the core in a "blanket" of 238
, the most easily found isotope. Once the 238
undergoes a neutron absorption reaction, it becomes 239
, which can be removed from the reactor during refueling, and subsequently used as fuel.[25]



Conventional reactors use water as a coolant.[26] SMRs may use water, liquid metal, gas and molten salt as coolants.[27][28]

Thermal/electrical generation[edit]

Some gas-cooled reactor designs drive a gas-powered turbine, rather than boil water. Thermal energy can be used directly, without conversion. Heat can be used in hydrogen production and other commercial operations,[27] such as desalination and the production of petroleum products (extracting oil from tar sands, creating synthetic oil from coal, etc.).[29]


Reactors such as the Toshiba 4S are designed to run with little supervision.[1]

Load following[edit]

SMR designs can provide base load power or can adjust their output based on demand.[citation needed] Another approach is to adopt cogeneration, maintaining consistent output, while diverting otherwise unneeded power to an auxiliary use.[which?]

District heating, desalination and hydrogen production have been proposed as cogeneration options.[30] Overnight desalination requires sufficient freshwater storage to enable water to be delivered at times other than when it is produced.[31]


Many SMR designs are fast reactors that have higher fuel burnup, reducing the amount of waste. At higher neutron energy more fission products can usually be tolerated. Breeder reactors "burn" 235
, but convert fertile materials such as 238
into usable fuels.[25]

Some reactors are designed to run on the thorium fuel cycle, which offers significantly reduced long-term waste radiotoxicity compared to the uranium cycle.[32]

The traveling wave reactor immediately uses fuel that it breeds without requiring the fuel's removal and cleaning.[33]

A report by the German Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management found that extensive interim storage and fuel transports would still be required for SMRs. A repository would still be required in any case.[21]


Coolant systems can use natural circulation – convection – to eliminate pumps that could break down. Convection can keep removing decay heat after reactor shutdown.

Negative temperature coefficients in the moderators and the fuels keep the fission reactions under control, causing the reaction to slow as temperature increases.[34]

Some SMRs may need an active cooling system to back up the passive system, increasing cost.[35] Additionally, SMR designs have less need for containment structures.[9]

Some SMR designs bury the reactor and spent-fuel storage pools underground.

Smaller reactors would be easier to upgrade.[36]


A key driver of interest in SMRs are the claimed economies of scale, compared to larger reactors, that stem from the ability to fabricate them in a manufacturing plant/factory. Some studies instead find the capital cost of SMRs to be equivalent to larger reactors.[37] Substantial capital is needed to construct the factory. Amortizing that cost requires significant volume, estimated to be 40–70 units.[38]

Construction costs are claimed to be less than that for a conventional nuclear plant.[39][40] However, modularisation and modularity influence the economic competitiveness of SMRs.[40] Financial and economic issues can hinder SMR construction.[10]

Staffing costs per unit output increase as reactor size decreases, due to fixed costs. SMR staff costs per unit output can be as much as 190% higher than the fixed operating cost of large reactors.[41]

In 2017 an Energy Innovation Reform Project study of eight companies looked at reactor designs with capacity between 47.5 MWe and 1,648 MWe.[42] The study reported average capital cost of $3,782/kW, average operating cost total of $21/MWh and levelized cost of electricity of $60/MWh.

Energy Impact Center founder Bret Kugelmass claimed that thousands of SMRs could be built in parallel, "thus reducing costs associated with long borrowing times for prolonged construction schedules and reducing risk premiums currently linked to large projects."[43] GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Executive Vice President Jon Ball agreed, saying the modular elements of SMRs would also help reduce costs associated with extended construction times.[43]


A major barrier to SMR adoption is the licensing process. It was developed for conventional, custom-built reactors, preventing the simple deployment of identical units at different sites.[44] In particular the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission process for licensing has focused mainly on conventional reactors. Design and safety specifications, staffing requirements and licensing fees have all been geared toward reactors with electrical output of more than 700MWe.[45]

SMRs caused a reevalution of the licensing process. One workshop in October 2009 and another in June 2010 considered the topic, followed by a Congressional hearing in May 2010. Multiple US agencies are working to define SMR licensing.[8] However, some argue that weakening safety regulations to push the development of SMRs may offset their enhanced safety characteristics.[46][9]

The U.S. Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program was expected to help license and build two prototype SMRs during the 2020s, with up to $4 billion of government funding.[47]

Nuclear Proliferation[edit]

Nuclear proliferation, or the use of nuclear materials to create weapons, is a concern for small modular reactors. As SMRs have lower generation capacity and are physically smaller, they are intended to be deployed in many more locations than conventional plants.[12] SMRs are expected to substantially reduce staffing levels. The combination creates physical protection and security concerns.[11][26]

Many SMRs are designed to address these concerns. Fuel can be low-enriched uranium, with less than 20% fissile 235
. This low quantity, sub-weapons-grade uranium is less desirable for weapons production. Once the fuel has been irradiated, the mixture of fission products and fissile materials is highly radioactive and requires special handling, preventing casual theft.

Some SMR designs are designed for one-time fueling. This improves proliferation resistance by eliminating on-site nuclear fuel handling and means that the fuel can be sealed within the reactor. However, this design requires large amounts of fuel, which could make it a more attractive target. A 200 MWe 30-year core life light water SMR could contain about 2.5 tonnes of plutonium at end of life.[26]

Light-water reactors designed to run on thorium offer increased proliferation resistance compared to the conventional uranium cycle, though molten salt reactors have a substantial risk.[48][49]

SMR factories reduce access, because the reactor is fueled before transport, instead of on the ultimate site.[citation needed]

Reactor designs[edit]

Numerous reactor designs have been proposed. Notable SMR designs:

  Design   Licensing   Under construction   Operational   Cancelled   Retired

List of small nuclear reactor designs[50][ view/edit ]
Name Gross power (MWe) Type Producer Country Status
4S 10–50 SFR Toshiba Japan Detailed design
ABV-6 6–9 PWR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Detailed design
ACP100 125 PWR China National Nuclear Corporation China Under Construction [51]
TMSR-LF1 10[52] MSR China National Nuclear Corporation China Under Construction
ARC-100 100 SFR ARC Nuclear Canada Design: Vendor design review.[53] One unit approved for construction at Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in December 2019.[54]
MMR 5 MSR Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. Canada Licensing stage [55]
ANGSTREM[56] 6 LFR OKB Gidropress Russia Conceptual design
B&W mPower 195 PWR Babcock & Wilcox United States Cancelled in March 2017
BANDI-60 60 PWR KEPCO South Korea Detailed design[57]
BREST-OD-300[58] 300 LFR Atomenergoprom Russia Under construction[59]
BWRX-300[60] 300 ABWR GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy United States Licensing stage
CAREM 27–30 PWR CNEA Argentina Under construction
Copenhagen Atomics Waste Burner 50 MSR Copenhagen Atomics Denmark Conceptual design
HTR-PM 210 (2 reactors one turbine) HTGR China Huaneng China One reactor critical in September 2021.[61]
CMSR 100 MSR Seaborg Technologies Denmark Conceptual design
EGP-6 11 RBMK IPPE & Teploelektroproekt Design Russia Operating, four commissioned 1974-1977
(not actively marketed due to legacy design, will be taken out of operation permanently in 2021)
ELENA[62][63] 0.068 PWR Kurchatov Institute Russia Conceptual design
Energy Well[64] 8.4 MSR cs:Centrum výzkumu Řež[65] Czechia Conceptual design
Flexblue 160 PWR Areva TA / DCNS group France Conceptual design
Fuji MSR 200 MSR International Thorium Molten Salt Forum (ITMSF) Japan Conceptual design
GT-MHR 285 GTMHR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Conceptual design completed
G4M 25 LFR Gen4 Energy United States Conceptual design
GT-MHR 50 GTMHR General Atomics, Framatom United States,France Conceptual design
IMSR400 185–192 MSR Terrestrial Energy[66] Canada Conceptual design
TMSR-500 500 MSR ThorCon[67] Indonesia Conceptual design
IRIS 335 PWR Westinghouse-led international Design (Basic)
KLT-40C 70 PWR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Operating, December 2019[5][68]
MCSFR 50–1000 MCSFR Elysium Industries United States Conceptual design
MHR-100 25–87 HTGR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Conceptual design
MHR-T[a] 205.5 (x4) HTGR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Conceptual design
MRX 30–100 PWR JAERI Japan Conceptual design
NP-300 100–300 PWR Areva TA France Conceptual design
NuScale 45 PWR NuScale Power LLC United States Licensing stage
Nuward 300–400 PWR consortium France Conceptual design, construction anticipated in 2030[69]
OPEN100 100 PWR Energy Impact Center United States Conceptual design[70]
PBMR-400 165 HTGR Eskom South Africa Cancelled. Postponed indefinitely[8]
RITM-200 50 PWR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Operating. Arktika icebreaker, critical in October 2019[71]
Rolls-Royce SMR 470 PWR Rolls-Royce United Kingdom Design stage
SEALER[72][73] 55 LFR LeadCold Sweden Design stage
SMART 100 PWR KAERI South Korea Licensed
SMR-160 160 PWR Holtec International United States Conceptual design
SVBR-100[74][75] 100 LFR OKB Gidropress Russia Detailed design
SSR-W 300–1000 MSR Moltex Energy[76] United Kingdom Conceptual design
S-PRISM 311 FBR GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy United States/Japan Detailed design
TerraPower 10 TWR Intellectual Ventures United States Conceptual design
U-Battery 4 HTGR U-Battery consortium[b] United Kingdom Design and development work[77][78]
VBER-300 325 PWR OKBM Afrikantov Russia Licensing stage
VK-300 250 BWR Atomstroyexport Russia Detailed design
VVER-300 300 BWR OKB Gidropress Russia Conceptual design
Westinghouse SMR 225 PWR Westinghouse Electric Company United States Cancelled. Preliminary design completed.[79]
Xe-100 80 HTGR X-energy[80] United States Conceptual design development
Updated as of 2014. Some reactors are not included in IAEA Report.[50] Not all IAEA reactors are listed there are added yet and some are added (anno 2021) that were not yet listed in the now dated IAEA report.
  1. ^ Multi-unit complex based on the GT-MHR reactor design
  2. ^ Urenco Group in collaboration with Jacobs and Kinectrics

Proposed sites[edit]


In 2018, the Canadian province of New Brunswick announced it would invest $10 million for a demonstration project at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station.[81] It was later announced that SMR proponents Advanced Reactor Concepts[82] and Moltex[83] would open offices there.

On 1 December 2019, the Premiers of Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan signed a memorandum of understanding [84] "committing to collaborate on the development and deployment of innovative, versatile and scalable nuclear reactors, known as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)."[85] They were joined by Alberta in August 2020.[86]

In 2021 Ontario Power Generation announced they plan to build a BWRX-300 SMR at their Darlington site to be completed by 2028. A licence for construction still had to be applied for.[87]


In July 2019 China National Nuclear Corporation announced it would build an ACP100 SMR on the north-west side of the existing Changjiang Nuclear Power Plant at Changjiang, in the Hainan province by the end of the year.[88] On 7 June 2021, the demonstration project, named the Linglong One, was approved by China's National Development and Reform Commission.[89] In July, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) started the construction.[90] and in October 2021, the containment vessel bottom of the first of two units was installed. Being the world's first commercial land-based SMR prototype, the commercial operation is due to start by the end of 2026.[6]


Polish chemical company Synthos declared plans to deploy a Hitachi BWRX-300 reactor (300 MW) in Poland by 2030.[91] A feasibility study was completed in December 2020 and licensing started with the Polish National Atomic Energy Agency.[92]

United Kingdom[edit]

In 2016 it was reported that the UK Government was assessing Welsh SMR sites - including the former Trawsfynydd nuclear power station - and on the site of former nuclear or coal-fired power stations in Northern England. Existing nuclear sites including Bradwell, Hartlepool, Heysham, Oldbury, Sizewell, Sellafield and Wylfa were stated to be possibilities.[93] The target cost for a 470 MWe Rolls-Royce SMR unit is £1.8 billion for the fifth unit built.[94][95] In 2020 it was reported that Rolls-Royce had plans to construct up to 16 SMRs in the UK. In 2019, the company received £18 million to begin designing the modular system.[96] An additional £210 million was awarded to Rolls-Royce by the British government in 2021, complemented by a £195 million contribution from private firms.[97]

United States[edit]

In December 2019 the Tennessee Valley Authority was authorized to receive an Early Site Permit (ESP) by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for siting an SMR at its Clinch River site in Tennessee.[98] This ESP is valid for 20 years, and addresses site safety, environmental protection and emergency preparedness. This ESP is applicable for any light-water reactor SMR design under development in the United States.[99]

The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) announced a partnership with Energy Northwest to explore siting a NuScale Power reactor in Idaho, possibly on the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory.[100]

The Galena Nuclear Power Plant in Galena, Alaska was a proposed micro nuclear reactor installation. It was a potential deployment for the Toshiba 4S reactor.


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]