Examining the safety of small modular reactors

Small modular reactor plant impression

Artist's impression of a small modular reactor plant (Image: Nuscale)

Today there is a growing interest among policy makers and industry players in the use of small modular reactors (SMRs) for their potential to provide safe and secure energy systems that will help to curb CO2 emissions and meet climate change challenges. SMRs can be defined as nuclear reactors with a power output of up to and around 300 MWe that incorporate by design higher safety, modularisation, standardisation and factory-based construction aspects enabling more predictable delivery models based on  economies of series production. Today, more than 70 concepts are under development covering a wide range of technology approaches and maturity levels. They are claimed to have great advantages in terms of safety through increased use of smart innovative technology and inherent safety features.

The NEA Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations supports the development of scientific and technical knowledge base for the safety of nuclear installations. In 2021 the CSNI established an Expert Group on Small Modular Reactors (EGSMR) to handle safety challenges and develop a solid scientific basis which supports safety demonstration of the advanced and innovative technologies used for SMRs.

To this end 39 experts from 15 countries, the European Commission, IAEA and the Generation IV International Forum gathered remotely on 29-30 June to discuss SMR safety assessment. The group addressed the wide range of technologies from water cooled reactors to innovative reactors which are currently in development. The event helped to set priorities for future nuclear safety research to be undertaken together by NEA member countries.  This research will support safety demonstrations of new reactor designs and support national efforts to make progress on assessing the safety of SMRs.

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