Small modular nuclear reactors are now beautiful for plant makers
25 February 2021 | https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com

With lesser gestation time, higher power generation period and lower risks, nuclear power plant manufacturers are now of the view that small is beautiful and are in favour of small modular reactors, experts said.

Chennai: For global nuclear power plant makers, small is now beautiful and they are looking at populating their small modular reactors across the world, said industry experts.

With lesser gestation time, higher power generation period and lower risks, nuclear power plant manufacturers are now of the view that small is beautiful and are in favour of small modular reactors, experts told IANS.

India is also looking at designing and developing such small modular reactors.
Small modular reactors are the ones which are factory-made compact with less than 300 MW capacity.

Nuclear power equipment manufacturers like Russia's Rosatom, French company EDF and the US based NuScale Energy are now looking at the small modular reactor segment.

"Small modular reactors of various types, capacity and features are being conceptualised and designed by various countries. Few such reactors are expected to start commercial operation of pilot/demonstration plants shortly. Large scale deployment of new designs of such reactors are expected by 2030," Sunil Ganju, Member, Nuclear Controls and Planning Wing, Department of Atomic Energy said.

Global industry players are looking at the possibility of small reactors replacing old thermal power plants.

"About 200 GW capacity of thermal plants in India are expected to retire by 2050," Ganju said at a recent webinar organised by India Energy Forum.

"It is not the question of small versus big. The economies of scale determined the size of reactors for power generation earlier. But today large reactors are not economical when one considers the cost of renewable power though the latter has several supplementary costs," Srikumar Banerjee, Chancellor, Homi Bhabha National Institute and former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) told IANS.

"The whole nuclear power programme began with small reactors and then went for bigger ones for economic reasons. After the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters some countries started thinking in favour of small modular reactors. For the plant manufacturers this gives an opportunity to expand their product lines," a senior industry expert told IANS preferring anonymity.

Small modular reactors are not a substitute for bigger ones. The small reactors have a role to play where grid connectivity is an issue. They can be used for factories needing high power, Banerjee said.

"On the other hand, the big reactors are important to increase the share of nuclear power in the country's overall power mix," Banerjee added.

In India the gestation time for a nuclear power project is high due to reasons like project siting, fabrication of oversized equipment at the project site as they are not factory made.

"As renewable power is infirm, there is a need for a good dependable base load power which is clean. Some of the retiring thermal power plants can be replaced with small modular reactors. India can make small modular reactors as it has the talent pool but it is for the government to decide on that," Banerjee said.

On its part, India is also looking at designing and developing small modular reactors.

"India is looking at building smaller light water reactors on a modular platform," an official of India's Department of Atomic Energy told IANS.

India has already built a small light water reactor that powers its nuclear submarine INS Arihant.

Though India's 220 MW pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWR) will qualify as a small reactor, it is not modular and is powered by natural uranium whereas the global players are talking about light water reactors powered by enriched uranium.

Queried about the availability of enriched uranium for India to power these small modular light water reactors Banerjee said: "Importing uranium is not a serious issue now. But we have to increase our enrichment capacity."

According to him, the fuel cost for a nuclear power plant is less than 12 per cent while the major cost is mostly in the form of capex.

As regards safety Banerjee said small modular reactors are compact and sealed in a containment, say like car batteries. Even the steam generators are inside the reactor vessel. The refuelling period is also longer as compared to PHWRs.

Speaking at the webinar Svyatoslav Pikh, Head of Small Nuclear Power Projects Overseas, Rusatom Overseas (a Rosatom company) said in Russia about 20 small modular reactors have been built to power the ice breakers.

"It is third generation technology with 35 per cent reduction in mass and 45 per cent reduction in dimension. It is also low vulnerability due to its small size," Pikh said.

Pikh also added that the Russian nuclear company is ready to collaborate with India with floating nuclear power plants to power its islands as well as for land-based projects.

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