Energy industry experts think Britain could get most of its electricity from small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) by the mid-2020s, according to a Monday report by Reuters.
“The real promise of SMRs is their modularisation. You can assemble them in a factory with an explicable design meaning consistent standards and predicable costs and delivery timescale,” Anurag Gupta, director of infrastructure at the consulting firm KPMG, told Reuters.
About half of Britain’s power plants will be shut down by 2030 as older conventional nuclear plants end their operational lives, and coal plants are shut down to meet the country’s global warming goals. Experts say SMRs could provide the U.K. with power that’s more reliable and cheaper than wind, solar and conventional nuclear plants.
Britain has already pumped $431 million to SMR research, hoping to replace the country’s problem-plagued Hinkley Point nuclear power project, which has been repeatedly delayed.
America’s Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) submitted the first-ever permit application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a SMR in May. Power companies in Idaho and Utah announced in June they intend to build the world’s first SMRs. The NRC still does not have a working regulatory process for modular reactors, so the project could be bureaucratically delayed until 2024.
Each SMR can generate 50 megawatts of energy and will likely be much cheaper than conventional reactors since they can be manufactured completely in a factory. These reactors would also require far less up front investment, making them much more capable of powering remote areas and being cost competitive with natural gas electricity.
America could be a great market for SMRs as well. Much of the research to support SMRs has been financially supported by about $250 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy.
America currently operates 99 aging conventional nuclear reactors across 61 commercially operated nuclear power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The average American nuclear reactor is 35 years old, nearly obsolete by modern design standards and near the end of its operating license. Within the past two years, six states have shut down nuclear plants and many other reactors are risking premature retirement.
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