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Survey finds large interest in small modular reactors

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Survey finds large interest in small modular reactors

A survey designed to gauge interest in small modular reactors by the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Ltd. yielded responses from 80 organizations around the world, including 19 that want to site a prototype or demonstration reactor at a CNL campus. Released Oct. 17, the report, "Perspectives on Canada's SMR Opportunity," summarizes responses to a request from Canada's premier nuclear science and technology organization to gather feedback and interest on the potential of a small modular reactor, or SMR, industry in Canada and what role CNL can play.

Respondents included SMR technology developers, potential end users and host communities, supply chain companies, academic institutions and others. Interest in SMRs is driven by environmentalism and a demand for cleaner energy; a need for cheap, flexible and reliable electricity; SMRs' inherently safer designs in comparison to existing reactors; and perceived market opportunities for clean energy in remote, off-grid locations, the survey found.

Stakeholders generally agreed in a number of areas, including expected positive economic benefits, a recognized alignment of SMRs with Canada's commitment to limit climate change, important applications for remote communities and the potential to enhance nuclear safety through next-generation technologies.

"Based on the volume and quality of responses CNL received ... it is clear there is enormous interest in establishing an SMR industry in Canada, and in testing the technology through a prototype reactor at a CNL site," Corey McDaniel, CNL vice president of business development and commercial ventures, said in a news release.

CNL itself is committed to siting an SMR on its Chalk River campus by 2026. The lab is also working on demonstrating the commercial viability of SMR technology and is seeking to become an international leader in SMR prototype testing and technology development support.

The wide-ranging technologies raised in the submissions reinforce the need for continued research, CNL said. According to the report, respondents are developing six water-cooled reactor types as well as four high-temperature gas reactors, three sodium-cooled fast reactors, three lead-cooled fast reactors, three molten salt reactors, one gas-cooled fast reactor and one fusion reactor design. Three-quarters of the designs have a capacity less than 300 MW, while 30% are intended for very small electrical power applications of under 15 MW.

Further potential and challenges

The challenges to SMR development and deployment, as identified by respondents, include risks in financing the first-of-a-kind unit of a new technology, gaining public acceptance and the thorny regulatory process for new technologies.

In particular, small modular reactors could help bring low-emitting power to isolated Canadian communities to back up renewables that are hampered by the nation's broad weather swings and shorter days, Anouk Kendall, president of Decentralised Energy Canada, said at the Canadian Energy Research Institute's electricity conference in Calgary, Alberta, on Oct. 16. Kendall's organization promotes a shift to greener power options in small communities from traditional diesel or natural gas generators.

"It addresses the baseload issue in communities," Kendall said. "Toshiba was thinking they could do a 10-MW small modular reactor, but I think since then it might happen in the future but currently it's not possible to do it that small. So I think you're looking at the 100-MW size really before you start getting into a good community option for providing low-emission baseload from a modular reactor."