SMRs expand energy choice, says Perry

24 October 2019

Nuclear power can help nations attain energy security, diversity and decarbonisation, and the USA is "ready and willing" to offer its technology to achieve this, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry told a US-EU High-Level Industrial Forum this week.

Perry (L) and Cañete (R) pictured at the Brussels forum (Image: EC)

"By sharing our nuclear energy technologies, we are breathing new life into that great and noble vision first unveiled to the world by President Eisenhower. A vision to convert nuclear power into peaceful energy for the whole of humanity," Perry said in a keynote address to the first US-EU High-Level Industrial Forum on SMRs which was held in Brussels on 21 October. "We are reaffirming nuclear energy as an indispensable source of energy for the world," he added.

The USA is supporting this vision by efforts to increase the longevity and performance of today's nuclear reactors, developments including accident tolerant fuels and other technologies, and programmes such as the Department of Energy's (DOE) Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative to bring new reactor technologies to market. The DOE has long been involved in the development of small modular reactor (SMR) technology, Perry said, citing joint research between the Idaho National Laboratory and Oregon State University which ultimately led to the development of SMR company NuScale.

SMRs retain "every advantage" of existing large-scale reactors - they are clean, reliable, and can store multiple years of fuel onsite - but also have "powerful advantages" of their own, Perry said: "They're smaller, they're more flexibile, they require less capital investment, they can be placed in remote locations ... They can power everything from military bases to remote villages and islands beset by tropical storms and hurricanes."

For the countries of Europe and the USA, SMRs and other advanced reactors, in providing a boost for nuclear energy, will also enhance energy reliability and security. Energy secure means economically secure, while energy security also bolsters national security, Perry said.

"When nations have secure energy sources, they can't be controlled by other countries wielding that energy as a geopolitical weapon. In a very real way, small modular reactors can be another tool to help vulnerable nations take control of their destinies," he said.

SMRs could potentially play a key role in less developed countries, he said, especially in "vast tracts" of the globe where the population has no, or only intermittent, access to electricity.

"We can change that grim reality, we can disperse the darkness … Let us partner together across the Atlantic and finally make [the] dream of peaceful nuclear energy a full-blown reality for every part of this world."

Tangible progress

The high-level forum, which was jointly hosted by the European Commission (EC) and DOE, brought together policy makers, Members of the European Parliament, business stakeholders and independent regulators to discuss EU-US technology leadership and cooperation in SMRs.

In his keynote speech, Miguel Arias Cañete, Member of the EC in charge of Climate Action and Energy said the event opened avenues for transatlantic cooperation in new, low-carbon and innovative nuclear technologies. On a global scale, there is now "tangible progress" with SMRs, he said, adding that SMRs are a "promising technological solution" for reducing carbon emissions but are also characterised by high cost efficiency and high levels of safety.

The potential benefits of SMRs include their lower financial risks, enhanced safety including passive or inherent safety features, reduced risk of core damage and reduced core size, and greater siting flexibility than large-scale plants, Cañete said. However, the deployment of SMRs faces challenges from: the need for regulatory scrutiny of their safety and security features; the risk of physical protection for non-proliferation purposes; and a need for the deployment of SMR technology to be done in a "safe and transparent" way with cooperation and dialogue between industry, utilities, member states, civil society and the European Commission.

International collaboration in the development of new and innovative nuclear technologies is necessary and should include areas such as licensing and safety, Cañete said. Joint US-EU actions on SMRs would be a good example of nuclear cooperation and could cover topics such as research and innovation, potential uses of SMRs for decarbonisation, and licensing, he added.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News