- U.S. states and world governments are looking at ways to develop small modular reactors (SMRs), which could allow for faster construction at lower costs and deliver nuclear power as a reliable, non-carbon and dispatchable source of electricity.
- Texas Governor Greg Abbott established a working group to review the issue and report back next year.
- The UK government is working to streamline constraints to the technology to increase its nuclear capacity through SMRs.
- China is way ahead of other countries in constructing its first SMR–the only model already approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Texas and the United Kingdom are looking into developing small modular reactors (SMRs), but China is way ahead of them in their development. SMRs can be made in factories with lower costs and faster construction time than typical large nuclear reactors, with parts small enough to be transported on trucks and barges. Their small size means that some of the SMRs would be deployed as multiple-module power plants. In July, China completed the assembly of the core module of the world’s first commercial small modular reactor, Linglong One, located in south China’s island province of Hainan.
Texas SMR Plans
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, in a letter to regulators, directed the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas to establish a working group and begin exploring “how Texas will become the national leader in using advanced nuclear energy.” The PUC began work to develop SMRs, with the first meeting of the PUC’s Advanced Nuclear Reactor Working Group. The working group will tackle a host of issues including workforce and supply chain development, the use of state and federal incentives to construct SMRs, and how advanced nuclear resources will compete in wholesale markets managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The PUC working group is planning to deliver a report to Abbott by the end of next year. Plans call for a draft report to be released in the May-June timeframe, followed by a public meeting to discuss its recommendations.
Texas currently has two traditional operating nuclear plants: the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station, located southwest of Houston, and the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant south of Fort Worth. The nuclear plants have a capacity of 2.7 gigawatts and 2.425 gigawatts, respectively.
Energy Northwest and X-Energy Reactor Company have signed a joint development agreement for up to 12 Xe-100 SMRs with a total generating capacity of 960 megawatts in central Washington. Energy Northwest expects to develop the project at a site adjacent to the Columbia Generating Station and bring the first Xe-100 module online by 2030.
UK SMR Program
The UK government wants to replace its older plants by a fleet of SMRs. In July, the government opened a competition to develop the technology with the aim of deploying projects in the 2030s. Britain is seeking to increase its nuclear power capacity to 24 gigawatts by 2050 as part of efforts to meet climate targets and increase energy security, representing about a quarter of projected electricity demand versus about 14 percent today.
Rolls-Royce and five other firms passed the first stage of Britain’s competition to select developers of small modular nuclear reactors, the EDF, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy International, Holtec Britain, NuScale Power, and Westinghouse Electric Company UK were the other companies chosen for the next stage of the process. Rolls-Royce, whose main business is making engines for large passenger jets, is the only company whose SMR technology is under review by European regulators. The government said it would launch the next stage of the competition as soon as possible and hopes to announce in spring 2024 which of the six companies would be supported with contracts awarded by summer 2024.
China at the Forefront of SMR
China is at the forefront globally in terms of modular SMR construction. Assembly of the core module of the world’s first commercial small modular reactor (SMR), Linglong One, was completed in July, according to the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), two years after construction began. Located in south China’s island province of Hainan, Linglong One is a multi-purpose small modular pressurized water reactor self-developed by the CNNC. The core module is the key component of Linglong One, and was independently designed and purchased by the Nuclear Power Institute of China under the CNNC. It includes pressure vessels and steam generators. It is expected to be operational at the end of 2025.
Linglong One is another innovative nuclear reactor developed by China with independent intellectual property rights, after Hualong One reactor–a Chinese Generation III pressurized water nuclear reactor with a capacity of 1180 megawatts. A Hualong One reactor costs 20 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) to build and the Linglong One costs one-fourth of that–5 billion yuan ($700 million). Linglong is the first small modular pressurized water reactor in the world to have passed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) general safety review. After completion, Linglong One is expected to achieve an annual power generation capacity of 1 billion kilowatt hours, with a capacity of 125 megawatts. Linglong One is also designed for urban heating, industrial steam production and seawater desalination.
There is renewed interest in nuclear power in the form of small modular reactors as governments are pushing climate goals to reach net zero carbon from fossil fuels. Texas has a working group looking to make the state the national leader in advanced nuclear power. The UK likewise would like to increase its nuclear power to 24 gigawatts by using SMRs. However, China is way ahead of other countries having completed assembly of the core module in a SMR.