What's an SMR?
Small modular reactors (SMRs) are advanced nuclear reactors with about one-third of the capacity of traditional nuclear reactors. They are:
Small – physically a fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear power reactor.
Modular – making it possible for systems and components to be factory-assembled and transported as a unit to a location for installation.
Reactors – harnessing nuclear fission to generate heat to produce energy.
As well as producing reliable low-carbon electricity, SMRs can be used for heating, water desalination, hydrogen fuel production and hot steam for industrial applications. Their passive cooling systems ensure safety. Compared to large reactors they have small footprints and relatively short construction times - 3 to 5 years, compared to 6 to 12 years for a large reactor.
To date, three countries - China, Russia and India - have operational SMRs. More than eighty designs are currently under development in 19 countries. The main manufacturers of SMRs are NuScale, TeraPower, Westinghouse, BWXT Technologies and Kairos Power.
Old King Coal
Coal, the the most carbon-intensive of fossil fuels, still supplies about a third of global electricity generation. Global CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants reached a new high in 2022. Coal mining has a heavy negative impact on air quality, the health of mine workers and mining communities as well as climate change. For these reasons it is imperative to put an end to coal mining and coal power generation as rapidly as possible.
From dirty coal to clean power
An idea gaining momentum is the retrofitting Coal Power Plants with Small Nuclear Reactors.
The idea is to transform retired coal-fired power plants to nuclear ones, using much of the old infrastructure.
The capacity of small modular reactors is similar to that of coal-fired power units, and much of the infrastructure of the old plants can be put to new use. The large number of coal-fired power plants that are presently ripe for retirement constitute a tremendous investment in power structure that can be put to good use for clean energy production.