The world’s big powers are in a race to build a new series of small reactors, which they believe will combine with renewables to create a low-carbon future for the planet. This week, leaders of companies from across the globe are meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, to assess progress on prototypes and to address the all-important question of licensing these new designs for safety.
Small modular reactors (SMRs) are not yet popular, but many billions of dollars are being spent in the US, China, Russia, the UK and France on research and development. The US government has already put $217 million into one commercial design, and is offering billions of dollars in loan guarantees for others.
Although the nuclear industry believes the first reactors can be deployed as early as 2025, and the plan is for them to be sited close to towns to produce the local electricity supply, concerns are being raised about the billions of dollars being spent on research to design and build small nuclear reactors for electricity production.
In light of this, the UK government has just announced a competition to get the best design and has put £250 million into a fund to pay for research and development over the next five years.
Preferred designs will be picked later this year, and the UK plans to be a world leader in the technology, exporting small reactors across the world, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
But to be cost-effective, they need to be placed near towns, producing electricity where it is needed. The local population might not be big on the idea of having a nuclear power station in their midst as wind farms in Britain have raised such opposition, that the government has allowed people to veto them.
The question is: Are small nuclear reactors a clean energy solution?