Small nuclear reactors: which technologies for which uses?

2024-02-22 10:30:06

The development of modular nuclear reactors is intended to provide manufacturers with solutions to decarbonize their activities, particularly with regard to the production of heat and electricity necessary for processes.

It is first necessary to define what a modular reactor is. Two types of technological solutions are being developed today, through the hundred or so projects currently underway around the world: SMR (Small Modular Reactor) and AMR (Advanced Modular Reactor).

AMRs, like SMRs, are small modular nuclear reactors. By modular, we must understand that these reactors can be industrialized to be produced on a large scale. This is the first revolution compared to historic nuclear power: Small modular reactors are intended to be used in very specific contexts, to meet very local energy needs – heat, steam, electricity. This may concern the needs of an energy-intensive industrial site, working in sectors such as steel, chemicals or steelworks for example. This can also concern a group of industrial companies, public buildings, grouped in a geographical area and having energy needs that can be met by one (or more) small reactors. It will be understood that AMRs and SMRs provide less power than a conventional nuclear reactor, and are intended to be produced in series to be used massively, in order to decarbonize industrial uses that currently emit a lot of CO2. To this end, they could be very useful for fueling processes for producing hydrogen, for example, or green fuels.

In terms of operation, AMRs use technologies developed in the 1960s grouped under the term fourth generation nuclear power. Among these technologies, three are currently the subject of work for the development of future AMRs :

  • Fast neutron reactors with sodium or lead coolants, whose particularity is their ability to consume nuclear materials from fuel reprocessing for their operation.
  • High or very high temperature reactors, capable of providing industry with heat up to 900 degrees.
  • Molten salt reactors, which bring together numerous concepts, including the possibility of using materials from the reprocessing of spent fuel.

SMRs, unlike AMRs, are water cooled. The strategy linked to the deployment of these small reactors is based on three pillars: First, the desire to use fuels and more generally nuclear materials more efficiently, to facilitate their reprocessing and produce less waste. Then, the small reactors under development must make it possible to produce units with a high degree of safety, but also increased economic competitiveness.

In France, the investment program France 2030, and more particularly its “innovative nuclear reactors” section “, enabled several French start-ups to be supported to develop SMRs and AMRs, while the global competition on these innovative industrial tools is extremely strong.

Thus, among the French projects, carried out by young shoots such as NAAREA, NEWCLEO, JIMMY ENERGY, RENAISSANCE FUSION, CALOGENA, HEXANA, OTRERA NUCLEAR ENERGY or even BLUE CAPSULE, all winners of the call for projects supported by France 2030, are working on are working hard to develop and validate their concepts, over fairly short time scales, given the European and global imperatives in terms of reducing carbon emissions.

The European lead in this industrial sector remains NUWARD, which must produce, via two reactors, 340 MWe of power.

With all the skills accumulated through decades of research and exploitation of nuclear technologies, notably Superphénix and AstridFrance has a clear advantage in the current international race to develop and deploy small modular nuclear reactors.

#Small #nuclear #reactors #technologies

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