Editorial: Small modular reactors: Too good to be true?
Small modular reactors – also known as SMRs – have been the talk of the nuclear town over the last several weeks.
By definition, SMRs are reactors, buried in the ground, with an electricity output of less than 300 megawatts.
They are said to allow for less on-site construction, increase containment efficiency and heightened nuclear materials security, which would jump-start a depleting nuclear industry.
On Sept. 17, the U.S. Department of Energy missed its target date for announcing the beneficiary of a $226 million grant for the use of small modular reactors.
Less than two weeks later, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group, released a report denouncing the use of SMRs. Reasons in the report included potential increases in taxpayer subsidies as well as safety and security concerns.
Finally, last Tuesday, scientists at a safety and risk assessment event in Columbia showed support for the use of SMRs. The scientists believe that SMRs would prove to be cheaper over time and more efficient in producing electricity. These reactors could potentially become prevalent at the Savannah River Site, which calls for much-needed discussions on their usage.
Beginning with the positives, a large percentage of scientists believe these smaller reactors can re-energize the nuclear industry. Also, supporters have shown some transparency by admitting the price per kilowatt may increase with the use of SMRs; however, the smaller size makes for speedier implementation, which should result in an overall lower price.
Finally, one of the biggest potential pluses is foreign trading. Supporters feel that if SMRs become prevalent as an American technology, it will open the flood gates for international trading.
Even with all of the advantages, there’s always two sides to a story. Naysayers believe that SMRs could be exponentially more expensive than supporters are saying. In addition, they have also cited the disaster at the nuclear facility in Fukushima. Those who have denounced SMRs believe incidents such as these spark from a lack of appropriate safety and security.
Overall, naysayers, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, feel that SMRs are too good to be true, which could prove to be telling.
While interest groups deserve credit on assessing the risks behind these reactors, the risks may be too overwhelming to bring them on board. They seem like a great concept, but could prove to be unfulfilling.
However, if SRS does become a home for small modular reactors, personnel should certainly take the necessary steps to make sure SMRs are as great as advertised. Taxpayers are already tied up with other projects at the Site, so the risk of increased taxes is a major concern.
Scientists believe SMRs won’t become commonplace for several more years. That gives the local community much-needed time to learn more about SMRs and make the best decision for our community and our nation.